This is the weekend of the 24th annual Monster Shark Tournament and as many as 120 recreational fishing boats are expected in Oak Bluffs harbor. They’ll ply the waters south and east of the Vineyard in pursuit of the biggest shark, but only a few fish will be brought ashore.
This event has drawn much attention in recent years, including from animal rights activists, who complain about wasteful killing of sharks in recent years.
But what is sometimes lost in the noise is the fact that this tournament is predominantly catch-and-release. Last year’s tournament attracted 124 boats. A total of 1,018 sharks of varying sizes were caught and released. There were 18 fish weighed in. That represents a 98 per cent release rate.
The shark tournament has changed considerably from its earliest years, when fishing boats lined up at the dock to weigh in sharks of every size. According to this year’s rules, the minimum weight for scoring in the contest is 200 pounds for a mako, and 250 pounds for other species.
Shark fishing is just one aspect of the popular sport of offshore fishing. Anglers love to get in their boats and head offshore, beyond the sight of land, to experience not just the hunt, but also the drama of being in a different world. There are many Island-based offshore fishermen.
Doug Abdelnour, 33, of Oak Bluffs won’t be fishing the shark tournament this weekend, although his heart and mind will be offshore. Mr. Abdelnour and his family run Nancy’s Snack Bar, and in an interview this week he said he’s been too busy to fish this summer. But he fished last year, and in 2001, he went fishing with Capt. Chris Peters of Oak Bluffs and reeled in a 12-foot long, 1,221 pound mako.
“Throughout my life, I’ve caught all kinds of fish, bluefish, striped bass. You name it. I am not a trophy fisherman looking to put a fish on the wall. For me, it is about being out there,” Mr. Abdelnour said. He said he learned offshore fishing from one of the best, Arthur Ben David, the former town harbor master.
“I remember, I was 13 or 14 years old,” Mr. Abdelnour said. “Everything, I learned, I learned from Arthur,” he added. “I like the science. It is reading the wind, the water and understanding the tides. It is looking at satellite weather. . . understanding water temperature, the breaks and pockets.”
Bait fish tend to swim in areas where there are huge variations in water temperature. And the big fish are usually not far behind.
“So, once you do the science, you put your line in the water. And you don’t know what the heck you are going to see,” Mr. Abdelnour said.
He said if he can get offshore fishing 10 times in a summer, he is having a great season. “South of Chatham is a great place to go. It is another world. There are no cell phones, no other disturbances,” Mr. Abdelnour said.
Harvey Russell, 50, will be fishing with his friends in the fishing tournament this weekend. Mr. Russell operates a charter fishing business out of Oak Bluffs called My Brother Charters. This is his fourth year as a charter captain. He has been fishing on the Vineyard for almost as long as he can remember.
He said when he takes his 38-foot boat, My Brother, 20 to 25 miles south of the Vineyard, he finds himself in a different world. “It is a nice place. The water is warmer this time of year. There is a wide variety of fish, not only different species of shark,” he said. “We may come across a yellowfin tuna, or bluefish, or mahimahi. It is a mixed bag when you go down south.” He continued:
“It is fishing, not catching. When you are out fishing your mind is away from work, from the clutter of the town. You do see some beautiful things: whales, dolphins and all sorts of marine life. That is what it is about.”
Last June marked one memorable offshore trip. “We went east of Chatham. We saw whales corkscrew out of the water. We caught a fish and landed one, it was a 250-pound bluefin tuna. It was with a bunch of friends,” he said.
This weekend some people will pay thousands of dollars for a charter to fish in the shark tournament. But Mr. Russell will have his “Gone Fishing” sign up on the proverbial door. “They [other charter fishermen] will charge $8,000 to $9,000 for the weekend. I don’t do that. I go fishing with family and friends. I don’t want to feel compelled to catch something. It is about going out to bond and have a good time. Besides, it is primarily a catch-and-release tournament,” he said.