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N.Y. shark hunt attracts fans — and protesters

In this Long Island fishing hamlet, hundreds of adults drank beer and children marveled at the bloodied sharks caught in a fishing contest, while protesters failed in their bid to stop the annual event.
A man looks over the remains of a shark that was caught during the Star Island Yacht Club shark tournament in Montauk, New York
A man on Saturday looks over the remains of a shark that was caught during the Star Island Yacht Club shark tournament in Montauk, N.Y.Keith Bedford / Reuters
/ Source: Reuters

In this Long Island fishing hamlet, hundreds of adults drank beer and children marveled at the bloodied sharks caught in a fishing contest, including a heart from a gutted 180-pound thresher shark that several children poked with awe.

A banner that flew overhead read "Enter the Cruel Shark Tournament Now." It belonged to a smaller group protesting what they said was the killing on Friday and Saturday of a species that was already declining in number.

The small group of protesters, backed for the first time by a large animal protection group, want to stop the shark-hunting tournament, one of the largest in the United States where the winner can take home more than $400,000 in prize money and from bets placed among fishermen.

"This isn't about sport, it's about big money and big suffering of endangered animals," said John Grandy of The Humane Society. "This is recreational slaughter done for cash prizes."

Following a Humane Society campaign, a similar tournament in Florida was shut down this year. The society promised protests at other fishing hubs in Maryland and Massachusetts where, like Montauk, contests bring visitors and commerce.

Demonstrators protest the treatment of sharks outside the Star Island Yacht Club shark tournament in Montauk, New York, June 16, 2007. In this Long Island fishing hamlet, hundreds of adults drank beer and children marveled at the bloodied sharks caught in the fishing contest. A smaller group protested what they said was the killing on Friday and Saturday of a species that was already declining in number. This small group of protesters, backed for the first time by a large U.S. animal protection group, want to stop the shark-hunting tournament, one of the largest in the United States where the winner can take home more than $400,000 in prize money and from bets placed among fishermen. Picture taken June 16, 2007. REUTERS/Keith Bedford (UNITED STATES)Keith Bedford / X01635

Organizers refused to shut down the tournament and Sam Gershowitz, the owner of the Star Island Yacht Club which hosts the event, now in its 21st year, said it did not contribute to declining shark populations and instead educated the public.

"Fishing has been an important part of Long Island's heritage and economy," he added.

He expected 35 sharks to be large enough to be caught and killed. Federal guidelines dictate a weight for each type of shark below which they cannot be kept. Smaller sharks are released and any shark meat not consumed by the crews is given to the poor.

Shark species, including the thresher, mako and blue caught at the Star Island Tournament, have seen their numbers drop by more than 80 percent in the past 50 years, according to WildAid, an international wildlife protection group.

Commercial fishing of sharks and the practice of slicing off shark fins and then dumping the animal overboard, which is banned in the United States, is largely responsible for the more than 70 million sharks killed worldwide annually.

"It's not these boats that are destroying our oceans, it's the long-haul boats that drag the nets," said Laura Steinberg, whose husband Barry brought in a 253-pound blue, which friends took pictures of with its guts spilling from its mouth.

"He has tremendous respect for sharks and is angry there are less in the water and he is being penalized for it."

The heart of a shark is displayed for audience members during the Star Island Yacht Club shark tournament in Montauk, New York, June 16, 2007. In this Long Island fishing hamlet, hundreds of adults drank beer and children marveled at the bloodied sharks caught in the fishing contest. A smaller group protested what they said was the killing on Friday and Saturday of a species that was already declining in number. This small group of protesters, backed for the first time by a large U.S. animal protection group, want to stop the shark-hunting tournament, one of the largest in the United States where the winner can take home more than $400,000 in prize money and from bets placed among fishermen. Picture taken June 16, 2007. REUTERS/Keith Bedford (UNITED STATES)Keith Bedford / X01635

Frank Mundus, 81, a local shark fisherman who was selling his new book based on his claim he inspired the character of Quint for the book and 1975 movie "Jaws," noted with the growing nearby protest that attitudes were changing.

"Twenty years ago they would have brought in 100 sharks with people shouting 'kill them all,' but now we are seeing some turnaround," he said, advocating circle hooks that give sharks which are caught and released a better chance of survival.

Others were unaware of the controversy, like Michael Stickney, 8, who stood near a tractor full of fins, shark heads and body parts.

"Cool," he said, taking home a shark fin in a plastic bag.