OCEAN CITY- The Ocean City Shark Tournament, one of the highlights of the summer-long tournament season in the resort, returns next weekend for the first time ever in May and about two weeks earlier than it is usually held.
The 34th Annual Ocean City Shark Tournament will be held on the earliest dates ever next weekend with next Thursday, May 29, the first of three fishing days. The tournament’s other fishing days will include next Friday, May 30 and Saturday, May 31. Registration and a captain’s meeting is set for next Wednesday, May 28 and the event will culminate with an awards banquet on Sunday, June 1.
When the tournament was first held over 30 years ago, it was always held during the second week of July, but over time, changes in the offshore fishery and the anglers’ preferences prompted organizers to move the event to the last week in June. In the mid-90s, it was moved forward again to mid-June, where it settled in on Father’s Day weekend and has been there ever since. This year, the tournament will be held in late May for the first time ever.
“The only certainty about fishing is that over time things change, and if you want to stay in the game, you’ve got to adapt,” said Captain Mark Sampson, one of the tournament’s directors. “After noticing that the runs of offshore species such as sharks, tuna and billfish have been starting earlier in the year than they have in the past, we’ve been kicking around the idea of moving the dates for the last couple of years. This year, we decided to go ahead and make the move.”
Shark Tournament organizers this year also announced a series of changes to the format and payout schedule for the annual event after consulting with boat captains and anglers about what they would like to see differently. For example, the entry fee has been reduced from $650 to $575.
The mako, open and release categories will now have first- and second-place payouts with enhanced values based on a minimum of 25 boats with paid entry. The mako and blue shark size requirements will be 72 inches in total length, while the thresher minimum has been set at 54 inches in fork length. In addition, the bluefish category has been removed. Overall, the format has been altered to simplify the payout and award system for the participants.
“We’ve heard from a lot of competitors that with so many different divisions, the tournament had become too complicated and the payouts spread too thin,” said Sampson. “So this year, we were on a mission to streamline and simplify everything from rules to divisions to added entry levels in order to make the tournament easier and more affordable to fish.”
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. 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.
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.