Gone Fishin' : Fluke up next for the Humane Society?
I wonder if the Humane Society of the United States thinks a fisherman holding a fluke is grotesquely photogenic. If so I may submit a fishing photo of Ned Casey.
I figure Ned would make a good model if the national be-nice-to-critters organization ever wants to launch a campaign to ban the VFW Fluke Derby. Why not?
Those thoughts occurred to me while Ned and I drifted in Vineyard Sound fishing for fluke Saturday. A small private plane flew along the coast towing a banner with the word "shameful."
The banner referred to the shark tournament. On Friday and Saturday, the plane made the rounds of Island towns with particular emphasis on Oak Bluffs. Another internal combustion engine added to the general cacophony of an average Vineyard summer day, courtesy of the Humane Society.
I am doubtful the banner changed any minds. It is one thing to sit on a hot beach, look up and see the Bud logo and begin salivating at the thought of a cold beer. But who wants to be lectured to from the air while at the beach?
The plane banner was part of a publicity campaign that included full-page ads in both papers that showed a fisherman hauling up a large shark. The ad repeated familiar Humane Society arguments against the tournament. Basically, that shark species are in serious decline, the shark tournament is a gruesome spectacle, and the tournament "undermines the Island's values and reputation as a leader in preserving the environment."
Well before the Humane Society landed on these shores, the Island's values and reputation had much to do with what it took to wring a living from the sea. It is also worth noting that sportsmen, hunters, and fishermen are the original conservationists, and they have done much to preserve and protect our wildlife and natural resources.
The majority of the men and women who participated in the tournament are hard-working people who like to fish for sharks, a federally managed species. The fishermen must comply with federal limits and tournament rules meant to limit the catch.
Photo by Alex Bell
More than 200 boats participated in this tournament. First place went to boat "Waterbury" owned by captain Larry Melo of Foxboro. His crew weighed in a 399-pound thresher shark. Over the two-day tournament, participants landed fewer than 30 sharks. (Find full results here)
The reality is that this tournament has no impact on overall shark populations. In fact, it provides a good model for other tournaments. Organizers work with biologists to provide samples and the rules include penalties for bringing in sharks below the minimum weight limit.
The opposition by some town officials to this tournament is and has been rooted in personal philosophy.
I do not like fishing for sharks. I am not a fan of the tournament and prefer to avoid Oak Bluffs when the circus is in town.
But I am not calling for it to be booted out of town. That would be unfair. What exactly are they doing wrong?
The Fluke Derby targets a highly managed species. The fishermen fish within state guidelines. If people begin to feel affectionate about fluke, will that be the next tournament targeted?
I suspect the Humane Society campaign is rooted in both philosophy and finances. According to Charity Navigator, a charity watchdog group, in 2006 the Society took in approximately $101 million and spent $86 million. It is an organization that relies on wringing hearts to keep the dollars flowing into its coffers. It does some good work but I disagree with its approach to the shark tournament.
Photo by Steve Myrick
The Society should be enlisting the support of the men and women who enjoy fishing for sharks to help end wasteful and destructive commercial practices. Instead it targets hard-working people who enjoy recreational fishing.
Recreational fishermen have been at the forefront of efforts to protect our fisheries. The resurgence of the striped bass and restoration of trout rivers out west are good examples. American sportsmen fought the battle to end market hunting practices and helped to restore whitetail deer and wild turkey populations.
Each year hunters and fishermen contribute millions of dollars to conservation efforts across the country through licensing fees and donations. So why does the Humane Society go out of its way to pick a fight with folks who could be allies?
My guess is that if some of the crazier elements had their way there would be no recreational fishing, no tournaments, and our cats and dogs would walk us.
This week I spoke to Michael Clark, a shark expert and fisheries management specialist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service (NOAA).
Fisheries management is very complex, particularly when dealing with highly pelagic species like sharks. Not every country abides by management agreements. Fishing for sharks requires a federal permit.
Asked if he thinks tournaments harm the shark fishery, Mr. Clark said that in NOAA's opinion "a tournament is just a bunch of permit holders abiding by the laws that accompany that permit" who decide to get together and have a contest.
"Oftentimes these tournaments are for a good cause and obviously bring a lot of money to the local communities that host them and certainly get a lot of attention good and bad from people who see the weigh-ins," Mr. Clark said. "We certainly allow the recreational and commercial harvest of sharks subject to the constraints of whatever permit that people have and hold."
Because people enjoy fishing for sharks, Mr. Clark said, the fishing would continue even if there were no tournaments. "There just wouldn't be the setting where there is the friendly competition associated with a tournament. It would just take on a slightly different face I guess, but people would continue fishing to their permits and that is one fish a day."
Mr. Clark said the recreational fishing community, like the commercial fishing sector, is interested in the long-term viability of the shark resource because they would be directly affected by more adverse regulations curtailing their ability to fish. "So obviously they would be concerned about what the overall status of the population is," he said.
Of course the Humane Society would have you think that shark fishermen are all uncaring insensitive Fox-TV-watching brutes.
Prior to the tournament, I received a Humane Society press release announcing that "world-renowned photographer" Nigel Barker would be joining The Humane Society to document a tournament the Society calls "a gruesome spectacle."
"Sharks are beautiful creatures that warrant respect and protection," Nigel said. "Tournaments deserve to be exposed for what they truly are - bloody spectacles held for nothing but huge cash prizes."
This would be the same Nigel who is a judge on the reality show, "America's Next Top Model," and was a judge for the 2007 Miss America contest. No cruel and bloody spectacle involved there.
Fox likes a good spectacle. Maybe Fox producers would consider allowing some beefy shark fishermen to protest modeling contests. That would be fun.
Coop said Tuesday one of his charter captains reported the first bonito of the season. Tom said Richard Walsh of California and Chilmark caught and released a pair of bonito that morning off of Chappy on pencil poppers. "They were mixed in with bluefish," said Tom.
Peter Hermann, organizer of the fluke derby, lost a yellow Garmin ETech Venture GPS. He is not sure where or when it went missing. Peter said, "It could be in the ocean, it could be anywhere but if it is on land I would love to have it back."
If anyone found a yellow GPS on land or in a fish call Peter at 774-563-0293.
(399 LB Thresher)
(379 LB Thresher)
(353 LB Thresher)
Wall Township, NJ
(335 LB Thresher)
Top Jr. Angler
26 sharks released
Top Female Angler
Basking Ridge, NJ
6 sharks released
Largest Thresher: 536LB
(399 LB Thresher)
Largest Mako Shark: 298 LB
West Newton, MA
Largest Porbeagle Shark: 332 LB
Release Award - 43 Releases