Caption: April Gornik’s watercolor “The Shark’s Eye” is 18″ x 18″, on rag paper, 2013, which will be donated as a prize for the Montauk Marine Basin’s charity no-kill shark tournament.
April Gornik’s watercolor “The Shark’s Eye” is 18″ x 18″, on rag paper, 2013, which will be donated as a prize for the Montauk Marine Basin’s charity no-kill shark tournament.
By Ellen Frankman
The Star Island Yacht Club in Montauk has been hosting one of the biggest shark fishing tournaments on Long Island for 27 years. But this year, a new kind of competition is being introduced that will provide a more sustainable alternative to the sport.
For the first time, Montauk Marine Basin will host a charity no-kill tournament. All sharks will be caught with circle hooks, released, and tracked depending on the species. The tournament is expecting 25 participating boats and each boat will also have observers on board to take photos. Points will be given according to the type of sharks caught, and prizes awarded include $10,000 cash and a painting donated by artist and animal rights activist April Gornik.
“I had been interested in the kill tournaments out in Montauk for some time,” said Gornik, who protested the Star Island tournament about four or five years ago. Gornik says that as she has learned more about the kill tournaments, she made an effort to connect with local anglers about ways to manage the tournament with an eye on the future of the shark population rather than the death count. Circle hooks, which reduce mortality in sharks that are released, were donated to previous tournaments, but this year they will be used only for the intent to catch and release.
“It’s about trying to find a way for anglers, who are often great supporters of conservation, to enjoy their sport while doing less inadvertent harm,” said Gornik.
When approached with the idea of doing a no-kill tournament, Carl Darenberg of Montauk Marine Basin decided to include take it a step further with a satellite- tagging component.
“We are going to have research teams on search boats that come in to tag the sharks that will be traced and tracked for OCEARCH,” said Darenberg. OCEARCH is not-for-profit organization that seeks to compile data on the movement, biology and health of sharks in order to better understand them and subsequently protect them. OCEARCH also incorporates an educational component into its research. The organization’s Global Shark Tracker tool enables students to engage with the travels of a shark, and the Montauk 6th graders have already decided upon the name Beamer for one of the sharks that will be caught.
In conjunction with OCEARCH, Dr. Greg Skomal, senior marine fisheries biologist for the state of Massachusetts, will be the scientist out tagging and tracking the sharks that are caught the day of the tournament.
“As far as tagging and tracking sharks, it’s critically important that we know their habitat, where they go and their movements over broad temporal and spatial scales,” said Skomal. “We need to know as much as we can about these animals so that our conservation efforts are as effective as possible.”
Skomal says he hopes to tag as many sharks as possible the day of the tournament no matter the species, though our local waters primarily are the homes of mako, thresher, blue and hammerhead sharks.
Because of its richly populated waters, Montauk has carried a long tradition of sport-fishing for decades, though many attribute the shark-hunting fury to Montauk native Frank Mundas, whom the movie Jaws is said to be based on.
“There really weren’t any charter boats going out for sharks until Frank Mundas, who Jaws is based on, decided he could make some money on them,” said Gornik. “Then of course after Jaws came out, it caught on and it’s been a muy macho activity ever since for certain sports fishermen. Plus the side betting is big, big money.”
But as the quest to kill starts to slowly fizzle out, it has become increasingly clear that relatively little is known about sharks, and the information that does exist does not point to a growing population. Sharks travel great distances deep beneath the water’s surface, and many species are slow to reproduce making them vulnerable to overfishing.
“No one, interestingly enough, is even sure what the breeding age for sharks is; they give birth even when they’re really old,” said Gornik. Gornik recalled the1280-pound hammerhead shark that was caught off Florida in 2006 and found to be carrying 55 pups. The pups were just a few days from birth and the mother was estimated to be between 40 and 50 years old.
“Keep in mind that a Mako will not reproduce until it is 300 pounds or bigger so it is important to think twice before we kill a shark if we want them to be around,” said Darenberg. He’s found that many fisherman are receptive to the idea of a no-kill tournament because they realize they are saving a shark.
“This tournament is significant in recognizing the decline in sharks and trying to find an inventive way to have a tournament that actually helps our understanding of sharks while not harming them,” said Gornik.
The tournament will also include educational resources for families, including presentations from the Riverhead Foundation for Preservation and Conservation, the Peconic Baykeeper and the National Marine Fisheries Service. Two Guy Harvey films will be played as well as a film by Brooks and Sean Paxton titled, “Sharks, From Fear to Fascination!” Food and music will also be offered for families on Saturday night.
“This tournament is to serve a purpose,” said Darenberg. “You can go out and have fun on the water without having to bring home an animal.”