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Battle between stone crab and shark fisherman close to breaking point

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ANNA MARIA, Fla. -- Tensions are high between stone crab fisherman and residents shark fishing along the same beaches. After a recent assault charge, the city is stepping in before emotions boil over.

"My message is simple: leave my traps, leave my property alone," says Anthony Manali, Jr., a 46-year stone crab fisherman in Anna Maria.

Manali has trapped stone crabs along Anna Maria's shores for nearly 50 years. The crustacean makes up more than half his seafood market's annual revenue. This year he'll finish up 20 traps lighter, with dozens more being pulled ashore without his knowledge.

"The sheriffs office has been bringing them back to me. I appreciate that," he says. "You lose a trap, you lose $30, and the revenue that that trap is going to bring in."

The culprit? Manali and others believe its amateur fisherman pulling in sharks from offshore.

Manali says to catch bigger fish, people are taking bait out in kayaks past his traps to deeper waters. As sharks are pulled into shore, they can get tangled in trap lines, leaving the crates mangled, moved, and sometimes stolen according to Manali.

"We're getting to the point where we're getting a little upset here and that's not what we want," he says.

Manali approached city commissioners in december, who nearly responded with an ordinance to prohibit the use of small crafts to bait water. Instead, the city will hold a meeting thursday mediated by a florida fish and wildlife representative.

"We're just going to discuss it because we only heard the one side of the story," says Anna Maria city commission chair Doug Copeland. "We're encouraging any crabbers or shark fisherman that believe that they are involved in this issue to come and discuss this."

Earlier this month, Anthony's wife Joann was charged with battery in a confrontation with three shark fisherman. The city hopes both parties can find common ground before more trouble ensues.

"We want everybody to be able to share that beach, but they have to understand, once in a while that beach is very important to us," says Manali. "We can't give it up 100 percent of the time."

Copeland says multiple shark fisherman and crab trappers have indicated they will attend the January 14 meeting, which begins at 6 pm in Anna Maria city hall.