A shark is hoisted up in front of spectators in Montauk, N.Y., during the Star Island 2007 Shark Tournament. This weekend's tournament boasts $1 million in prizes.
Shark hunt thrives despite protests
The fisherman who started a successful New York tournament now lives in Hawaii
GARDEN CITY, N.Y. » More than 100 miles east of Manhattan, out past the Hamptons, sits a tiny village where thousands converge at the docks on summer evenings to ogle at and revere the massive creatures brought back from the sea.
Montauk remains an epicenter for shark-fishing tournaments, a half-century after legendary shark hunter Frank Mundus practically invented the sport and became the inspiration for the Captain Quint character in the movie "Jaws."
Despite protests from animal advocacy groups that decry the events as inhumane, the tournaments are thriving. For the first time, this weekend's Star Island Yacht Club tournament boasts $1 million in prizes. And Mundus, who retired to Hawaii nearly two decades ago, promises to attend the event, signing his books and selling souvenirs.
"I don't like to see any animal abused or suffer needlessly. There is no reason to kill sharks."
William Crain / East Hampton Group for the Wildlife
But protesters will also be there, along with airplanes flying overhead with anti-shark-fishing banners trailing behind. Similar complaints echo at shark tournaments around the country.
William Crain of the East Hampton Group for the Wildlife denounces what he calls "glorifying the killing of sharks. ... I don't like to see any animal abused or suffer needlessly. There is no reason to kill sharks."
John Grandy, senior vice president of wildlife programs for the Humane Society of the United States, said, "It is time for a change in the way we view sharks and their protection."
Rich Janis, general manager of the Star Island Yacht Club, contends the protests are unwarranted. Federal fishing regulations limit the daily catch to one shark per boat, and minimum weight requirements call for many of the sharks to be thrown back because they are too small.
Last year's Star Island tournament had 244 boats contending for $715,000 in prize money over two days, Janis said. In the end only 44 sharks were brought into the docks, while 325 were caught and released.
Janis said 1,200 pounds of shark meat was donated to the Long Island Council of Churches to supply its local food pantry programs.
The Rev. Thomas W. Goodhue, executive director of the council of churches, said he has been urged by animal rights groups to reject the donations but said no. Another Long Island food bank agreed not to accept shark meat after being contacted by the Humane Society.
"Telling us 'don't accept free food' is a tough issue," Goodhue said.
Locals also brush aside the protests by pointing out that shark fishing is a rich part of Montauk's history.
"I don't think there's much to (the protests)," said Stret Whitting, president of the Montauk Boatmen & Captains Association. "I've never seen more than a handful of people out there protesting."
Whitting first came to Montauk with friends in the 1960s and encountered Mundus, the legendary shark hunter. He hired Mundus to take him shark fishing several times and was hooked.
"Mundus was the guy that started it, and this was before 'Jaws,'" Whitting recalled. "He was the guy that got it going and made it popular."
When he retired in 2002, Whitting and his wife moved to Long Island's eastern tip, where he now captains his own charter boat.
"God put these creatures on the earth for man to eat; not to be abused, but to eat," he said. "I think fishermen and hunters are probably the most conservation-minded people you will meet."
Star Island might be the biggest shark tournament in Montauk, but it is hardly the only one. Many weekends throughout the summer feature tournaments run by various organizations.
Whitting said that because of its location between New England and the warm southern waters, Montauk provides anglers with an incredible variety of targets, which is why it claims to be the "fishing capital."
"You not limited out here," he said. "At certain times you can go after marlin or tuna; other times there are bluefish, bass, blackfish, fluke, sea bass, porgies.
"You can go out fishing for anything."