OCEAN CITY- The 27th Annual Ocean City Shark Tournament got underway yesterday with the first of four official fishing days, and with the action heating up offshore in the last few weeks, it could be a memorable one.
Hundreds of offshore anglers chugged out to the canyons off the coast of the resort yesterday morning for the first of three chances to grab a share of the thousands of dollars in prize money at stake. The start of the offshore season has been fairly lukewarm, but appears to be heating up just in time for the annual Ocean City Shark Tournament, which is one of the highlights of the offshore fishing season in the waters off the coast of the resort.
Most of the sharks caught during the tournament are safely returned to the sea with a just a small percentage actually weighed at the scales. For example, 81 sharks were released during the tournament while just 27 were weighed at the scales at the Ocean City Fishing Center.
Of the 27 brought to the scales, 19 were makos while five were blue sharks and three were threshers. Taking to top prize in the Mako Division last year was angler Tom Wecker of Hanover, Md., fishing aboard the “Press Time” with Captain Luke Blume, who hauled in a 300-pound mako last on the final day of the tournament to take first place and a check for $25,000-plus.
From modest beginnings back in 1981 when just 11 boats and 33 anglers participated in the augural event, the Ocean City Shark Tournament has grown to become one of the premiere shark tournaments on the east coast. Last year, 79 boats participated in the annual event with over $144,000 in total prize money doled out to the winners in several categories.
The annual event got underway on Wednesday with late registration and a captain’s meeting, with the first of three official fishing days set for yesterday. Captains and teams of anglers must choose to fish any two of the three fishing days- Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
The Ocean City Fishing Center just across the Route 50 Bridge in West Ocean City is the host of the annual shark tournament and the marina will be turned into headquarters for the event with weigh-ins each day from 3:30-7:00 p.m. Crowds of fishing enthusiasts and curiosity seekers will cram into the marina each day for the chance to see a big shark weighed at the scales, and the entire facility is turned a celebration of fishing, food, music and fun with activities for children included.
Thousands of dollars in prize money will be awarded to the top catches in each of the four major categories including the mako, open, release and bluefish divisions. Prizes will be awarded to the overall winners for the entire three-day event, but prizes will also be awarded to the daily winners in the heaviest catch or release divisions.
While the primary goal of the tournament is to bring the largest shark in several categories into the scales for a just at the thousands of dollars in prize money at stake, no less important is the conservation of the fish.
Many of the sharks caught during the annual event are tagged and released so their movements can be studied and a greater understanding of the magnificent creatures can be ascertained. Marine biologists often set up shop at the marina during the event to take samples and further study the small percentage of sharks that actually make it to the scales.