Commercial Shrimping: Small Creature, Big Controversy

Photography by Elizabeth Dentato

Hernando County has been rebranded as the Adventure Coast, but it is also known for its commercial fishing, an industry which brings in millions of dollars to the county. According to the Florida Marine Research Institute, shrimp was the top species harvested by commercial fishermen in 2013. Hernando County harvested 1.5 million pounds of shrimp that year. Over the past three years, that figure has doubled. It is a big business, and local families depend on this industry to pay their mortgages and other household costs. They also invest in their boats and docks in the same way others maintain their cars or business property.

That is how Daniel Ebbecke, a local commercial fisherman, sees it. He wanted to repair a dock for a boat, then asked for a zoning change to allow additional boats to dock there. He did not anticipate the months-long journey the request would bring, nor the controversy that would spring up in Hernando Beach that would put his family business up against the Hernando Beach Property Owners Association.

The Hernando Beach Property Owners Association (HBPOA), represented by Charles Greenwell, petitioned the BOCC to be a party to the proceedings at the 05/24/16 meeting. It is a well-respected group which seeks to maintain a certain standard in that community, and the zoning change Ebbecke wants is a concern to them. County Attorney Garth Coller advised that the law allows only two parties – an applicant and the agency, which in this case would be Ebbecke, and the BOCC. Chairman Jim Adkins granted the HBPOA “intervenor” status, allowing the Association to have additional rights in the matter.*

Daniel Ebbecke would like to change the zoning where his business sits and expand the number of commercial fishing vessels allowed along Calienta Street to a total of six along the dock, wanting three to be longer than 26 feet. The commercial business his parents started almost 25 years ago has always had larger boats at that location, including a 45 foot long party boat, charter boats, grouper boats, shrimp boats, and towing vessels.

Previous BOCC members had no issue with Ebbecke having two shrimp boats at the dock, but he stated that when he wanted to rent out the property to someone else, the request was denied. A zoning change from CM (Commercial Marine) – 1 to CM-2 would allow heavier use at the dock and accommodate additional (and larger) boats, but Ebbecke was advised to pursue a PDP (Planned Development Project) which includes the CM-1 but allows landing, icing, packing, and shipping products. Stipulations from the Planning and Zoning department would allow only four larger boats.

Ebbecke feels he has been in the crosshairs on this issue as residents have been frustrated by the few commercial fishermen who were inconsiderate in the past, and this issue has directed the residents’ pent up anger at him. His property is not inside the HBPOA area, but they share the channel. As a good neighbor, Ebbecke stated he has tried to work with the HBPOA and come to a peaceable arrangement. He admits he made mistakes when signs were removed out of ignorance. At public workshops, Ebbecke stated the main concerns voiced were large boats (greater than 45 feet long) on the channel and shrimp boats operating overnight.

Denying the zoning change will be a significant financial hardship to the small business owner who just wants to go back to his business and be left alone. Ebbecke had no one at the meeting in support of him. His elderly parents, his only business partners, could not attend. Ebbecke’s father was chairman of the port authority board in Hernando Beach and worked with Representative Ginny Brown-Waite to dredge the channel, something which benefits the entire Hernando Beach community.

Greenwell stated he and Ebbecke have been professional and have agreed to disagree, but Greenwell, whose property sits at the point where the boats come down the channel, presented aerial photographs of Hernando Beach showing there is no real working waterfront. Ebbecke’s property is at the furthest end, nearest Shoal Line Boulevard, and his commercial boats must travel past multiple residences.

Greenwell is also concerned that granting the zoning change will have devastating (and long lasting) effects. Dredging the channel destroyed seagrass beds which have had to be replanted. Greenwell speculated that if the zoning change is approved, he believes Ebbecke plans to sell the property to a Chinese company once their lease terminates, but admitted he does not know the terms of the lease. Greenwell states that if the property is sold, another owner may increase the commercial traffic on the channel, have crews working overnight, and intrude on the recreational usage of the area.

Greenwell played a recording of the 2/8/16 BOCC meeting in which Assistant County Attorney Joseph DiNovo addressed the issue. It is a balancing act, DiNovo stated, between encouraging working commercial waterfronts and protecting residential area from uses that are not compatible. Greenwell stated a CM-1 designation is compatible, which Ebbecke’s property currently has, while a PDP (CM) is not.

The waterway for the proposed PDP (CM) would take the boats through the narrower residential canals. The manmade residential canals were not designed for commercial traffic, Greenwell believes, and while the shrimp boats add charm to the community, the balance should not tilt in favor of commercial fishing.

Seventeen residents and business owners came forward, showing photos of shrimp boats, large wakes from the boats, citing declining property values and concern for the environment. Ebbecke returned to the address the concerns brought by the residents. Ebbecke felt he has been painted as villain in the matter, with residents claiming he will lower property values, destroy the environment, and disturb the peace.

Since 1993, Ebbecke’s family has had numerous vessels in use and is planning to use four of the six boat slips that are already in existence. He stated that in the future, if the property is sold, the owner will need to abide by the PDP (CM) regulations. His original request was for a CM-2, but the P&Z recommended another plan, allowing him to use the property as he has all these years.

Rowden commended the staff for being thorough, but stated it is the BOCC that ultimately decides. She read a motion into the record that Nicholson seconded, that the BOCC should deny the zoning change. Adkins stated this is a quality of life issue and led the board in voting to deny the proposed change. Regardless of what Ebbecke intends for the property, the zoning will remain CM-1.

*Intervenor Status:
In county meetings, citizens are able to make comments about any subject but are limited to three minutes each. They may give their opinion, present facts they have collected, or cite complaints. When there is a specific matter, such as the rezoning petition in this case, many citizens may be interested in changes in their community.

Coller stated because the HBPOA protects the interests of Hernando Beach citizens as a unit, Chairman Jim Adkins could agree to grant the HBPOA “intervenor” status, a legal term in which someone else could side with a plaintiff or defendant in a legal case. The intervenor usually has a unique perspective which would help a court make a decision. To prevent significant changes in their community, the HBPOA is taking a position against Ebbecke’s proposed plan to bring in larger fishing vessels through the canals.

An Intervenor is given more than the three minutes to present their arguments, and is allowed to bring expert witnesses to support their position. Acting on behalf of local residents, the HBPOA can also cross-examine any witness that Ebbecke brings before the BOCC. However, they cannot appeal any decisions made.

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