OCEAN CITY — In an effort to build on an already solid conservation ethic, organizers of the annual Ocean City Shark Tournament are partnering this year with the well-known Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation to increase payouts and prize packages for the release division of the popular event in June.
The Ocean City Shark Tournament returns to the host Ocean City Fishing Center in June with even stronger conservation measures in place than in years past. While there will still be some large sharks weighed at the scale during the four-day event in June, the cash payouts and prize packages for anglers and boats that opt to release their catches will be more than doubled, thanks in large part to the new partnership with the conservation-minded Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation.
The Ocean City Shark Tournament was started 31 years ago as a small club tournament with a few trophies and rods and reels handed out as prizes. Over the last three decades, the tournament has evolved to become one of the largest events of its kind on the east coast and last year doled out over $142,000 in prize money to the winners in several categories.
While much of the drama surrounding the event includes the weighing of large sharks at the scales at the host Ocean City Fishing Center, from the beginning the tournament has been rooted in a strong conservation effort. Last year, for example, just 18 sharks were brought to the scale, while 146 were released during the three days of fishing and the tournament boasts a 95-percent release rate in its three decades of existence.
“Just like sharks, the Ocean City Shark Tournament’s success can be attributed to long-term adaptation,” said tournament co-founder and director Captain Mark Sampson. “From the beginning, we made a commitment to run an event with an eye to conservation and serious effort not to adversely impact shark resources.”
Efforts have been made over the years to help ensure participating anglers are bringing back to the scales only the right size and type of sharks. For example, the tournament has maintained minimum size limits higher than what the federal government allows, made certain species eligible for catch-and-release points only, and increased the prize money payouts for the release division.
“By proactively adapting the tournament to address critical issues with sharks and within the shark fishery, we’ve been able to keep the event on a track that’s been fun for fishermen, educational for spectators and a little more successful every year,” Sampson said.
This year, however, tournament organizers, with the partnership of the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, are expanding on the conservation effort with greater incentives for the participating boats and anglers to release more sharks and bring fewer to the scales.
“We haven’t done away with the two divisions that allow anglers to bring sharks to the scales, but knowing the tournament anglers tend to pursue categories that offer the biggest payout, we’re looking to make the Release Division cash and prize packages so attractive that, by their own choosing, fishermen will opt to release more sharks,” he said. “That should be a win for fishermen and a win for sharks.”
Sampson said in discussions with Guy Harvey it became clear that his Ocean Foundation and the Ocean City Shark Tournament shared the similar goals of minimizing shark mortalities and maximizing educational outreach about shark conservation. It was determined the best way to encourage tournament anglers to release more sharks was to boost the prize packages in the Release Division. To that end, the Guy Harvey Foundation has offered to more than double the amount of guaranteed payouts in the release division.
“We’re really excited about this support from such a well-known and well-respected leader in marine conservation and wonder if this sponsorship might prove to be infectious as recently the makers of “Fish Bomb” fish attractant also signed up to be a sponsor of the Release Division,” said Sampson.
Sampson said while just a small percentage of the sharks caught during the tournament each year are brought to the scales and far more shark mortality is attributed to wanton slaughter internationally, tournament organizers hope altering the payout formulas will help in a small way and send a message about the importance of conservation.
“The take of sharks by sport fishermen is miniscule compared to what is killed about commercial vessels around the world, but if shark populations are to survive, no one who engages in the fishery can be exempt from the burden of providing at lease some additional measure of conservation,” he said. “Everyone needs to evolve in the right direction. That’s the message we at the Ocean City Shark Tournament and the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation hope to get across during our event this June.”