HERNANDO BEACH — Plans for expanded commercial fishing in Hernando Beach are riling waterfront homeowners who fear the impact it will have on their residential community.
Hernando Beach Seafood, which operates shrimp and stone crab boats on the northernmost and widest of the community's four direct-access canals, wants to move its stone crab processing plant to Marlin Canal, the southernmost.
The company's rezoning proposal would allow seafood processing not now permitted on the narrower Marlin Canal. It has sparked a rousing social media debate, which spilled over last week into an informational workshop the company held about its plans.
About 50 residents attended the Friday night meeting at the Coast Guard Auxiliary. More than two hours of debate included tense exchanges between the fish company's representative, Allen Sherrod, and area residents worried about their community's future.
Just ask Fran Baird, whose 35 years in Hernando Beach included more than a decade living in condos near the company's current commercial fishing center on Calienta Street.
"I've smelled everything down there,'' she said at the meeting. Stone crabs taste great, she said, but stone crabs cooking "will stink up the whole community.''
Moving the crab processing "will pollute the water down there,'' she said. "We beg you not to mess up that channel and that middle area of Hernando Beach.''
Hernando Beach Seafood doesn't plan any big changes, Sherrod said. The company wants to end crowded conditions on Calienta, where stone crabbers are going out the Tarpon Canal as shrimpers are coming in back in. That puts boats on boats, he said.
The rezoning would separate the operations. The company would move its stone crab operation south to five parcels the Birren family owns on Shoal Line Boulevard — the only main road through Hernando Beach. Four of the parcels are waterside on the west side of Shoal Line. The last parcel, on the east side of Shoal Line, is where the company would cook stone crab claws, ice them and load them up for shipment, Sherrod told the Tampa Bay Times.
The company's half dozen or so stone crab boats already dock along on its waterside property, Sherrod said. They ride up the Marlin Canal during the stone crab season and out to the Gulf, skirt around coastal Hernando Beach to the main channel to check crab traps, then take their catch to the processing area on Calienta for cooking, icing and transport. The boats return on their circuitous route back out to the Gulf and down the Marlin Canal to dock just off Shoal Line.
Under the plan proposed to the county, the boats would take stone crabs straight back to the Marlin Canal docks and off-load them for cooking and processing. The company would keep processing shrimp — taking it off the boats, icing it and loading it on trucks — on Calienta.
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To Sherrod and the Birrens, it makes sense to spread out the operation.
Resident Bud Frase asked if the rezoning would allow for more boats and more fishing, since the Hernando Beach Seafood properties have room for more boats. Sherrod assured him the plan was simply to deal with the crowding.
Would the company agree as part of the rezoning to limit the number of crabbing boats to the same half dozen it has now, asked resident Judy Zellmer. The answer from Sherrod was a resounding "no."
Possible expansion of the fleet also was a concern for Steve Barton, vice chairman of the Hernando County Port Authority. Putting any more large boats on the Marlin Canal is a problem, he said, because of its blind and dangerous curve at the Gulf end. Several others in the audience spoke up about the same concern.
A 2012 rezoning made the Shoal Line parcels available to more big boats anyway, Sherrod said, but the current owners don't anticipate a batch of new fishing boats coming into the canal.
"You may sell the business,'' Barton countered, and new owners might have a different plan.
Resident Diane Greenwell, whose husband is running for the Hernando County Commission, noted that the 2012 rezoning was to allow larger boats for marine repairs, not for fish processing.
"That's a whole different intent than what you have now,'' she said.
Kathryn Birren said her family purchased the marina property in 2013, after that rezoning, as county records indicate.
Residents also raised concerns about commercial vessels causing damage in the otherwise residential canals. And they worried about forklifts moving from one side of busy Shoal Line Boulevard to the other among the Hernando Beach Seafood properties..
Kathy Frase, president of the Hernando Beach Property Owners Association, said residents understand that the fishing industry makes its living on their waterways.
"You say this is as far as you need to go, she said. "We're concerned about things in the future.''
The rezoning has not been set for public hearings. The Port Authority will take up the issue at a future meeting, according to correspondence from the county. After that, it would go to the Planning and Zoning Commission for a recommendation. The County Commission would have final say over the proposal.
In 2016, county commissioners unanimously rejected an application for additional shrimp boats on Cheeks Creek, another of the community's primarily residential canals.
Contact Barbara Behrendt at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.