NORTH PORT, Florida -- Sport fishing, science, business and humane interests are coming together for the first time in support of a new kind of catch-and-release fishing tournament for sharks that demonstrates that a fishing competition really can support shark protection while providing the excitement that spectators and anglers have come to expect.
The new Guy Harvey Ultimate Shark Challenge series is a catch-and-release only competition off the Southwest Florida coast, beginning with a qualifying round April 30 - May 2 at Burnt Store Marina in Lee County and concluding with a Grand Championship Finale May 21-23 at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota. During the tournament, fishermen will compete by catching sharks and scientists will tag the sharks for conservation research purposes to learn more about the animals' travels in the wild. Spectators will be able to watch the action live via video from the boats.
"For the first time, what we call a 'love 'em and leave 'em' shark tournament will be transformed into a true spectator sport," said Sean Paxton. He and his brother, Brooks, known as the Shark Brothers, are creators and directors of the event. Along with Co-Director and Associate Producer Capt. Robert Moore, they said: "Our shared vision for this tournament is to effectively combine the goals of sport, science and conservation. By leveraging modern broadcast technology, we'll also be providing spectators onshore with an exciting and educational multimedia experience."
The Humane Society of the United States views the Guy Harvey Ultimate Shark Challenge tournament design as a significantly more humane alternative to traditional catch-and-kill shark tournaments. "We know shark species are in decline and that we need to better understand their life histories in the wild," said John Grandy, Ph.D., senior vice president of HSUS. "We think this tournament format will help support necessary protection for sharks that would have died in a traditional kill tournament."
The tournament was developed in 2009 when the Paxtons approached Robert Hueter, Ph.D., director of Mote Marine Laboratory's Center for Shark Research, about the idea of an innovative catch-and-release shark tournament. Hueter had run a successful all-release, research-oriented shark tournament from 1989 to 1998 along the southwest Florida coast. Together with Capt. Moore, the group then teamed up with renowned marine wildlife artist, scientist and conservationist Guy Harvey, Ph.D., to present a model for responsible sport fishing that promotes shark protection. Harvey, a longtime marine conservationist and founder of the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, said the tournament will increase global awareness of the important role that sharks play in the world's oceans and our ecosystem. "The Guy Harvey Ultimate Shark Challenge Tournament Series will be a uniquely exciting event for participants, spectators and everyone who cares about the future of our oceans," he said.
Hueter and staff from Mote's Center for Shark Research will oversee the scientific aspects of the tournament, including tagging operations. Anglers will attach identification tags to as many sharks as possible and scientists will outfit a number of sharks with satellite-linked transmitters that will track shark movements after release. Hammerhead and bull sharks will be the focus of the satellite tagging efforts, but other species may be tagged as well. The satellite tags are designed to transmit location and other information about the shark's travels when the animal's dorsal fin breaks the surface of the water.
Once the satellite tags are deployed, the public will be able to follow these sharks' travels on the Internet for as long as one year or more.
"This project will provide a breakthrough in collaborative research involving the marine science and recreational fishing communities," Hueter said. "The fishermen deserve great credit for embracing this new approach. By working together to develop a 21st-century, conservation-oriented alternative to the more traditional kill tournament, the Mote Center for Shark Research and tournament organizers hope to provide a national model for the responsible use of marine resources."
Supporting tournament organizers in this collaborative effort are Lee County Commissioner Ray Judah; Luke Tipple, director of the Shark-Free Marinas Initiative; and John Land Le Coq, co-founder of Fishpond USA, a prominent outdoor and fishing equipment retailer. All involved share a view that this event should become the "next generation" model for shark fishing competitions. "Shark-Free Marinas has been involved with the Guy Harvey Ultimate Shark Challenge since its inception and is in full support of its methodology," Tipple said. "Sharks need protection and we need to manage the ways we utilize their stocks. In the past, some shark fishing tournaments have killed reproductively capable sharks, which are a dwindling resource. This catch-and-release format offers the best of both worlds, allowing the sport of shark fishing to directly contribute to our scientific understanding of their population status and functional life history."
Le Coq and Fishpond are also concerned about the status of sharks. "Fishpond must lead by example to influence the destructive perceptions of the magnificent sharks that roam our oceans in peril, and to help end the kill-oriented tournaments that have traditionally existed in ports around our country," Le Coq said.
Sharks will be caught using heavy conventional tackle, to reduce time between hook-up and release of sharks, and the fishermen will use inline, non-stainless steel circle hooks that minimize injury to the sharks. Sharks will be measured in the water and then outfitted with either conventional ID or satellite tracking tags. Tail snares and other special equipment will be used for angler and animal safety, as well as for humane handling and release of the sharks.
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