OCEAN CITY — The “White Marlin Capital of the World” got a little less fishing-friendly this week when resort officials voted to eliminate the long-standing practice of awarding a $5,000 check to the angler who catches the first white marlin of the season each year.
For decades, the Town of Ocean City has awarded a $5,000 check to the angler who catches the first recorded white marlin of the season off the coast of the resort to honor the kick-off of another summer offshore fishing season and as a nod to the resort’s reputation as the “White Marlin Capital of the World.” While the Town of Ocean City awards $5,000 to the winning angler, the Ocean City Marlin Club adds a $5,000 contribution of its own if the angler who catches the first white marlin of the season is also a club member.
However, at the end of a budget work session on Wednesday, Budget Manager Jennie Knapp presented the Mayor and Council a list of supplementary budget appropriations or requests that don’t fit easily into any other department’s budget. Included on that list was the town’s $5,000 contribution to the first white marlin of the season caught and released off the coast of the resort.
While the elected officials vowed to revisit the requested expenditures on the list later during the budget process, Council Secretary Mary Knight called into question the annual $5,000 award. Councilman Wayne Hartman briefly explained the origin of the annual award and suggested maybe it was a concept whose time had passed.
“Being the ‘White Marlin Capital of the World,’ it was something that was started some time ago,” he said. “I would be in support if we wanted to stop doing that. In fact, I’ll make a motion to eliminate that.”
Mayor Rick Meehan, who has served the city in an elected capacity for over three decades, said awarding a check to the angler who catches and releases the first white marlin each year went back even further than his time in office.
“This was basically something we did with the Ocean City Marlin Club years ago,” he said. “It’s for the first white marlin of the season. It was something done to support the fishing community and I’m not sure how long we’ve been doing it, but it pre-dates me.”
Meehan agreed it was perhaps an expenditure that had run its course.
“I’m not sure how important this is anymore,” he said. “It really doesn’t get the recognition or the play that it used to.”
Despite the relatively low cost of the $5,000 award in an era of $128 million annual budgets for Ocean City, Hartman also said he wasn’t sure how much value the town got from what is essentially a public relations move and questioned if the town got any bang for the buck anymore.
“It’s so subtle I don’t think many people are even aware of it anymore,” he said. “I agree it’s kind of gotten lost in its importance.”
Councilman Dennis Dare agreed the money could possibly be spent better elsewhere, even if it included directing it toward other promotions that feature offshore fishing in the resort.
“A few years back, we began working with ‘Hooked on OC’ to promote fishing,” he said. “I think maybe redirecting this to those efforts might be more beneficial.”
The council voted 5-0 to eliminate the annual $5,000 award for the first white marlin of the season with Council President Lloyd Martin and Councilman Tony DeLuca abstaining.
While the majority of the council agreed the annual $5,000 award had likely run its course in terms of public awareness, the resort’s fishing community is certainly keenly aware of its importance. The first white marlin of the season is always celebrated at marinas around the resort area as a symbolic start to the offshore billfish season.
The very first recorded catch of a white marlin off the coast of Ocean City occurred in 1936, not long after an epic storm cut the now famous Inlet between Ocean City and Assateague and started to put the resort on the map as a world-class sportfishing destination.
Last year, the first white marlin catch and release of the season occurred on May 27, tying for the second earliest recorded first white marlin ever since records were first kept in the 1930s. Historically, the first white marlin catch and release of the season has occurred most often in a window of five to seven days in mid-June. The latest date ever for the first white marlin of the year off the coast of Ocean City occurred on July 20, 1940.
Last year, angler Andy Urban fishing aboard the “In the Black” out of Sunset Marina caught and released the first white marlin of the season on May 27, just days after the earliest ever recorded on May 25 in 2015. Subsequently, Urban and the “In the Black” crew was awarded the $5,000 check from the town of Ocean City and another $5,000 check from the Ocean City Marlin Club for also being club members. After Wednesday’s vote, it appears Urban and the “In the Black” crew will be the last recipients of the town’s $5,000 award.