Predictably, last week’s decision to accept a full-page advertisement from The Humane Society of the United States regarding the Ocean City Shark Tournament was blasted by some.
Captain Kerry Muse’s letter was the only written or verbal reaction we directly received, but we understand the ad touched a nerve with many as was the case when a similar ad was submitted for publication last year. Muse’s letter to the editor can be found below. The ad placed in this paper is part of a broad campaign waged to try and bring attention to the recreational fishing industry’s impact on shark and other natural resources.
Muse takes particular exception with the ad’s content. There’s nothing blatantly false about this ad, which featured a dead and bloodied shark hanging on a dock, which may or may not be a local marina, atop four paragraphs of copy and a note, “Act Now. Tell Mayor Meehan and the County Commissioners to Make This Year’s Shark Tournament The Last.” It’s worth pointing out local elected officials have no say over this tournament. It’s held in a private marina and operated by local business people.
Muse is right there are misleading remarks in the ad, but disingenuous advertiser comments are commonplace in the world of media. See those establishments that remark they have the best crab cakes, steaks or burgers on the beach or the cell phone carriers that allege they have the “fewest dropped calls.” In the face of questioning, there’s truly no way to confirm these statements. It’s their belief. It’s marketing.
That being said, in this particular ad, there are some disputable references. For instance, “Shark tournaments like the Ocean City Shark Tournament are cruel spectacles that add to the devastation of shark populations and ocean ecosystems. Sharks are routinely hooked, bled, suffocated or repeatedly gaffed.” This is an opinion that we disagree with, but it’s true sharks, whether it’s a tournament or not, are hooked and brought to the boat where they suffocate. They are often gaffed. Obviously, the devil is in the semantics, such as the use of the words “cruel” and “devastation,” which are clearly used in an attempt to deceive.
Another point made in the ad: “Despite what supporters say, tournaments have no scientific benefit – they’re about cash prizes, pure and simple. The Ocean City Shark Tournament only encourages this ecological disaster and fosters the tragic misconception that the only good shark is a dead one.” Now, it’s true no matter how conservation minded they are, fishing tournaments do not particularly help the science and the environment. We don’t think responsible tourneys like the Ocean City Shark Tournament necessarily hurt it either. Additionally, there’s no question tourneys are about money. They are not non-profit events. Big fishing tournaments seek to make money and often have healthy bottom lines, but we would say it’s not at the expense of the sharks.
The national organization’s focus is a good one, but their aim is being misfired on recreational fishermen. The true culprits are not these guys. It’s the commercial fleet, largely made up of international vandals, operating haphazardly. The intent of the ad is sound, but the campaign unfairly targets this local tournament and uses misleading scare tactics to get its message across.
Look no further than last week’s tournament numbers to confirm that. During the three-day event, 14 sharks were killed and brought to the scales, while 134 were released. That’s a 91-percent release rate. It’s often higher than that.
We support the local fishing tournaments, but that does not mean we will not accept controversial ads addressing the broad subject they specifically deal with. The operators behind these tournaments are conservation minded business people who want to see lots of boats register for the tournaments and lots of fish caught. They stress conservation and some officials spend considerable resources educating those who come to watch the dead fish weighed in at the docks. That’s not the case with all fishing tournaments in the world, but we applaud the local operators because they are responsible. This ad campaign does not blur that reality.