CLEARWATER — A new downtown promenade jutting out into Clearwater Harbor is finished, and sightseers are taking advantage of the opportunity to walk out over the water and watch the boats glide by.
But local fishermen are annoyed and confused by a "No fishing" sign posted at the entrance to the promenade.
"I'd rather be fishing off that big pier," Bob Kroll of Clearwater said as he fished off a nearby seawall around lunchtime Monday. "You'll see anglers out there all day, but they're all fishing illegally."
In fact, at that moment a man was fishing illegally at the end of the promenade. He wouldn't give his name, but he was pleased when he caught a ladyfish. "That's good bait. I'll cut it up," he said.
At first glance, this 200-foot-long concrete promenade at the western end of Cleveland Street near Coachman Park seems like a sweet spot to bait a hook and cast a line.
So why isn't fishing allowed?
Because the structure wasn't built for that, city officials say.
"It's not equipped for fishing. There's no running water on it so you can cut bait and clean fish and dispose of remains," said Ed Chesney, Clearwater's environmental manager.
"It was built to be a community gathering place, not a fishing pier," said Kevin Dunbar, Clearwater's director of parks and recreation.
Besides, they say, once the 127 downtown boat slips are constructed next to the promenade later this year, it'll be hard to fish there because the floating docks and boats will get in the way.
But officials understand the anglers' frustration. They say the main problem is that a fishing pier a few hundred feet to the north at the end of Drew Street is closed due to construction. There, the city is building a small dockmaster's station that will have restrooms and showers for boaters who rent slips.
"I'm all for fishing, and the last thing we want to do is discourage it," Chesney said. "But right now, there's one pier you can fish on, and it's closed. There's a pier you can't fish on, and it's open. That's confusing."
This is a temporary problem, he said. The situation will be better once the Drew Street fishing pier reopens this summer or fall. That pier's length will be extended, giving people more room to fish.
The adjacent boat slips should be finished by November or December, officials said.
In the meantime, the city says it's trying to discourage fishing off the promenade. That's why the "No fishing" sign was posted.
First offenders are most likely to get a warning, said Clearwater police spokeswoman Elizabeth Daly-Watts. "If an officer is out there and sees someone fishing, they'll just remind that person that it's against the ordinance."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4160.