OCEAN CITY — The directors of the Ocean City Shark Tournament, a fixture on the summer-long offshore tournament season, announced this week the 2014 event would be the last after over three decades.
The tournament began in 1981 and for the last 34 years has thrilled anglers and spectators with remarkable sharks weighed at the scale at the host Ocean City Fishing Center, which, for four days each summer became a festival of sorts with big fish, huge crowds, music, food, drink and fun. There was always a strong conservation ethic surrounding the tournament as far more sharks were released than weighed at the scales and the event included a strong educational component.
Just 11 boats and 33 anglers competed in that first Ocean City Shark Tournament back in 1981, but the numbers swelled over the years. The most recent peak was 84 boats in 2008, but a variety of factors conspired to shrink the number of boats competing in recent years. A run of bad luck with weather and rough seas, a stagnant economy and competition from the myriad of offshore tournaments that have sprouted up over the years likely helped contribute to the tournament directors’ decision announced this week that the 2014 tournament was the last.
“After careful consideration, the directors of the Ocean City Shark Tournament have decided to retire and announce the 2014 tournament will be our last,” the statement reads. “Over the past 34 years, we have worked to develop an event that would be fun, exciting and educational for both competitors and spectators. The goal was to provide an environment where shark anglers could compete for substantial prize money with responsible fishing practices.”
The statement, announced by tournament directors Mark and Charlotte Sampson, Wayne and Kathy Shelton and Doug and Vicky Cymek, went on to thank those who had a part in the tournament’s success over the years.
“We greatly appreciate the wonderful support we have received from anglers, spectators, sponsors and the press over the years,” the statement reads. “We have been happy to get to know and work with so many great people and businesses along the way. All have helped to shape the Ocean City Shark Tournament into what it was and kept it going for so long. We’ve had many fun times under our tournament tent and on the docks during the weigh-ins and we know that we will miss those relationships in the future. Thank you to all.”
The concept for the tournament was hatched on a cold, winter night back in 1981 when six local shark fishermen got together at a mid-town restaurant to discuss starting a shark fishing club. According to the event’s history, it was decided the best way to gain publicity for the club and generate interest in shark fishing in the resort area was to host a tournament.
On the very first day of the first tournament in 1981, a 627-pound tiger shark was brought to the scale, which, at the time was a new state record and the largest fish of any kind ever caught of Ocean City. With the public still buzzing over the movie “Jaws” and its sequels just a few years earlier, the news of the big 627-pound tiger shark spread and made headlines across the region.
That record-setter in 1981 was eclipsed in the second Ocean City Shark Tournament with a 674-pounder and again in the third year with a remarkable 1,210-pound tiger shark caught by angler Grace Czerniak aboard the “Lisa” with Captain Stu Windsor. The 1,210-pound tiger is now on permanent display on the south end of the Boardwalk near the Inlet.
The tournament continued to grow over the years with the number of boats and the number of sharks weighed at the scales steadily increasing. From the beginning, however, conservation was a mantra of the tournament and far more sharks were caught and released over the years than hauled to the scale. Early on, other divisions for bluefish, tuna and dolphin were added and prizes were awarded for all three.
But alas, the tournament saw its numbers wane in recent years after peaking out at 84 boats in 2008. In 2009, 54 boats competed with 14 sharks weighed and 136 released. The 2009 event was one of the most remarkable in recent memory with a state record 876-pound mako caught and weighed at the scale by the crew on the “Nontypical,” which certainly left their mark on the annual event.
The number bounced back up to 63 in 2010 with 18 sharks weighed and 146 released. In 2011, the number dropped to 40 with just three qualifiers weighed and 100 released. For the next two years, bad weather and rough seas conspired to drop the level of participation severely. Just 11 boats competed in 2012 with no qualifiers weighed at the scale and 44 releases. The same scenario played out in 2013 with just 14 boats competing and no sharks weighed with 27 releases. In the final event last year, which was moved up to May 28-31 for the first time, 18 boats competed with 15 sharks weighed and 108 released.