Re: Auburn Man Missing: Possible Shark Attack

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Posted by on August 17, 2004 at 12:12:31:

In Reply to: Auburn Man Missing: Possible Shark Attack posted by on August 16, 2004 at 12:22:00:

Fishing lobbyist killed by shark

By Nels Johnson

Great white attacked diver near Fort Bragg

IJ report

"Noyo River Coast Guard! Mayday, mayday, mayday! Noyo River Coast Guard! Mayday, mayday, mayday!

"Noyo River Coast Guard! I need a response!"

Cliff Zimmerman's urgent cry went out on marine radio Sunday afternoon on the Mendocino County coast north of Fort Bragg as a circle of blood stained the water not far from the abalone tube of his longtime fishing pal, Randy Fry.

Zimmerman was in the water just five feet from Fry moments before, then turned to clear his face mask and was about to dive for an abalone when he heard a sound he'll never forget.

"I heard this swooshing noise," he said. "What's this? I looked to my right. Here comes this freight train by me. The shark was arched. I saw the fin. He was breezing by me. I saw Randy's tube. I think he had Randy."

Zimmerman believes Fry was headed for the bottom for another abalone when he got hit by a shark about 16 feet long.

Fry, a 50-year-old sport fisheries lobbyist from Auburn, was nowhere to be seen. "Puff! He was gone," Zimmerman said.

A body was found yesterday morning, but Coast Guard officials said it has not been positively identified, and declined comment on its condition.

Fry was West Coast regional director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, a 90,000-member sportfishing group that promotes the right to fish. He represented sportfishermen in the statehouse in Sacramento as well as at scores of local, state and federal fishery meetings, and was a popular figure at harbors up and down the coast.

"Randy was really instrumental in organizing recreational anglers," said Sonke Mastrup, a deputy director at the California Department of Fish and Game.

Fry, a veteran fisherman, diver and duck hunter, loved the ocean and had no fear of sharks, even though he respected their world.

Before beginning Sunday's dive, Fry and Zimmerman instructed Red Bartley, president of the California Striped Bass Association, to watch for great whites. Bartley remained behind in the boat and "we always tell the person in the boat to keep an eye out for anything that might be a sign of sharks," Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman, a surveyor who owns the Beach House Inn in Fort Bragg, struck up a friendship with Fry three decades ago, long before the former contractor and real estate broker became active as a fisheries lobbyist.

The tragedy unfolded 150 feet from the boat, a 28-foot Uniflite Sportfisher that was anchored near Kibesillah Rock, which juts from the ocean about 300 feet offshore, roughly 10 miles north of Fort Bragg.

As soon as the shark rushed past him and the wake cleared, "There was no Randy," he said. "There was a 10-foot circle of blood."

"Shark!" Zimmerman yelled. "You see Randy? Where's Randy?"

Looking in horror from the boat, Bartley shouted back, "Blood in the water! Blood in the water! Get to the boat!

"I don't see him."

Zimmerman made a frantic rush to the boat, "kicking like hell" and was pulled aboard by Bartley. He issued the mayday call, then phoned his wife, asking her to call the Coast Guard as well.

Rescue helicopters arrived within minutes, joining the search for Fry. Zimmerman's anchor snagged, keeping his craft at bay for a time, but another angler in a small aluminum boat methodically combed the ocean between the rock and the shore for any sign of Fry.

But Fry, considered by many to be California's leading sport fisheries activist, had vanished, the victim of a great white shark.

"I know one thing for sure," Zimmerman said, adding Fry talked about the ocean as the ideal place to die. "He wanted to go out in the ocean. A shark didn't bother him."

Fry's death prompted an outpouring of grief in fishing circles.

"I'm so distraught," said Jim Donofrio, head of the New Jersey-based Recreational Fishing Alliance, noting Fry was a key aide and good friend who lobbied for sport fishermen around the clock, "working 24-7" on political, scientific and other issues as he "battled for the right to fish."

"He was a real asset to the recreational fleet, I'll tell you that," said Roger Thomas, skipper of Sausalito's Salty Lady charter boat and head of the Golden Gate Fishermen's Association. "He was doing a great job."

Thomas, who serves on the federal panel that regulates ocean fishing along the West Coast, said he worked closely with Fry on a variety of issues. "He was pretty damn fair about things," Thomas said. "He will be sorely missed."

Jim Martin of Fort Bragg, a recreational fishing writer who serves on the Mendocino County Fish and Game Commission, said Fry was irreplaceable. "He was probably the most active sport-fishing activist" in the state, Martin said.

Fry was in Fort Bragg this weekend to help out at a fund-raiser hosted by Martin and others for the Recreational Fishing Alliance.

Donofrio, like Zimmerman, recalled that Fry didn't spend much time worrying about sharks when he went abalone diving.

"I always used to tease him about going in the water," said Donofrio, a former charter boat skipper. "I am afraid of sharks."

Fry would always just smile.

"Don't worry about those sharks," Fry would reply. "You have a better chance of getting killed in an airplane crash."

Although there have been no fatal shark attacks off the Marin coast, at least 21 attacks have occurred in the notorious "red triangle" - bounded by The Farallones, Tomales Point and Monterey - since 1972, when protection laws for marine mammals were enacted, an Independent Journal survey of state and federal records indicates.

Scientists say the California seal and sea lion population has more than doubled since the passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Sea mammals are a favorite shark prey - and abalone divers in wet suits resemble sea creatures.

In addition to at least nine attacks on abalone divers off the Tomales Point area, at least six attacks have been recorded off The Farallones, 33 miles southwest of Tomales, since 1962.

The last Marin victim was Lee Fontan, 24, of Bolinas, who was attacked while surfing off Stinson Beach in 2002. Wounds to his leg and torso required 100 stitches.

Since the 1950s, 106 shark attacks have been logged on the West Coast, including 10 that resulted in fatalities.

Fisheries activist Randy Fry was No. 11.

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