OCEAN CITY- The 31st Annual Ocean City Shark Tournament got underway this week, and with the action off the coast hitting a fever pitch, there should be no shortage of excitement at the docks this weekend.
Hundreds of offshore anglers will chug out to the canyons off the coast next week in search of sharks of all species and sizes. A decent number of sharks were weighed during Mako Mania two weeks ago and quite a few more were released, setting the stage for what should be a strong Ocean City Shark Tournament again this year.
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 hosting the annual shark tournament and the marina has been 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 all weekend 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, the crew aboard the “All In” took first place in the signature mako division with a 471-pounder worth $20,123 caught on the first day of fishing. In the open division, angler Steve Meehan took first place with a 290-pound thresher.
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. Marine biologists often set up shop at the marina during the event to take samples and further study the small percentage of sharks that actually make it to the scales.
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.
This year, 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.