OCEAN CITY- Despite some serious misgivings about the weather conditions and the possibility of rough seas, the 32nd Annual Ocean City Shark Tournament officially got underway today with a couple of modifications in the traditional format.
With strong northeast winds and rough seas predicted through much of mid-week, Ocean City Shark Tournament organizers on Wednesday were considering several options including modifying the scheduled fishing days and surrounding events or in the most dire case, scrapping the tournament altogether for the first time in its 31-year history. Later on Wednesday, however, a potential break in the offshore weather forecast for the weekend allowed tournament organizers to come up with a plan to keep the Ocean City Shark Tournament complete with a modified schedule.
The original plan called for three fishing days starting yesterday and concluding on Saturday with a crab feast and awards ceremony on Sunday. Under the new plan, Thursday was scrapped as an official fishing day and the first of three fishing days was moved back to Friday. Boats and competing anglers will still fish two of the three days, Friday through Sunday. With Sunday being an official fishing day, the annual afternoon crab feast was scrapped and an awards ceremony will be held on Sunday evening after the scale officially closes.
With the mid-week offshore weather forecast sketchy, it is uncertain just how many boats registered for the tournament this year. Many of those that did sign up started chugging out to the canyons off the coast today in search of sharks of all species and sizes. Friday is now the first of three official fishing days for the annual shark tournament based out of the Ocean City Fishing Center in West Ocean City and captains and teams of anglers must choose to fish two of the three days, which end Sunday. With the uncertainties surrounding the offshore forecast, more emphasis could be placed on the Bluefish Division of the tournament this year.
“We’re doing our best to make the best of an unfortunate situation and we’re sorry for the inconvenience this uncertainty is creating for our fishing teams and spectators,” said Shark Tournament Director Mark Sampson on Wednesday. “I guess we’re lucky that in the 32-year history of this tournament, this if the first time we’ve had to deal with such issues.”
From modest beginnings back in 1981, when just 11 boats and 33 anglers competed in the inaugural event, the tournament has grown over the years to become one of the premiere shark tournaments on the east coast. Most of sharks caught during the tournament are safely returned to the sea with just a small percentage actually weighed at the scales.
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.
Last year, in the Mako Division, the crew on the “Nontypical” and Captain Jim Hughes took first place with a 224-pounder worth a tournament-high $26,670. Second-place in the Mako Division went to angler Nick Kuba and the crew aboard the “Triple Threat” with a 174-pounder worth $1,806. Angler Chuck Duban and the crew on the “Stress Reel-Ief” took third place in the mako division with a 155-pounder worth $15,444, which was higher than the second-place award because of added entry levels.
In the Release Division, it was Captain Terry Layton and the “Nontypical” crew taking first place with 38 total points for five makos, four tiger sharks and one dusky worth $14,193. The crew aboard the “Cool Hand Luke” was second in the release division with 36 total points for six sandbar sharks, five hammerheads and two dusky sharks worth $3,306. The “Restless Lady” was third in the release division with 30 total points, while the “Fish Box” was fourth with 22 points.
While the primary goal of the tournament is to bring the largest shark in several categories into the scales for a shot at the thousands of dollars in prize money at stake, most 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.
A new wrinkle aimed at education and conservation has been added to the Ocean City Shark Tournament festivities this year. On Friday and Saturday under the tent at the Ocean City Fishing Center, sportsmen and anyone else who is interested in learning more about the plants, animals, and a lot of other things that go on in the natural environment are invited to the 1st Annual Outdoors Delmarva event. Outdoors Delmarva will be set up in the tent on Friday and Saturday from 1 p.m. until 7 p.m. just yards away from the weigh-ins of the Ocean City Shark Tournament.