The confusing history of the white marlin and blue marlin that earn anglers millions during Ocean City’s White Marlin Open in August each year.
Every August, Ocean City hosts the White Marlin Open, the world’s largest billfish tournament. In 2019, more boats entered the tournament than every before. These boats are impressive to see and those fishing and those observing contribute significantly to Ocean City’s economy each summer. To find out more about the White Marlin Open, visit our page dedicated to this tournament.
Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources has a lot to say about the white marlin. This fish is one of many billfish that create a thriving sport fishery off the coast of Ocean City, Maryland. “Every summer, as the waters warm, billfish make the journey to Maryland’s offshore waters to feed. These pelagic swimmers remain off the coast until water temperatures drop again in the fall and they head back south.” The marlin prefer warm surface water, but can be found in waters deeper than 300 feet.
The white marlin is one of four species common off our coast:
- White marlin, Kajikia albida
- Roundscale Spearfish, Tetrapturus georgii
- Blue marlin, Makaira nigricans, and
- Atlantic sailfish, Istiophorus platypterus
Originally, the white marlin was named Tetrapturus albidus. This placed the white marlin in the company of the spearfish which have a fossil record dating back 15 million years. In 2006, some scientists did genetic testing and discovered that the white marlin and the striped marlin should be in their own genus, Kajikia. They are distinct from the spearfish genus of Tetrapturus and also separate from the blue marlin which are in the genus Makaira..
The scientists were confused, but so were fishermen. The Virginia Institute of Marine Science began doing DNA testing on the fish weighed in during the Mid-Atlantic $500,000 Tournament since 1992. They discovered that 18% of the white marlin weighed in were actually roundscale spearfish I haven’t seen any numbers for how many of the white marlins caught in the White Marlin Open in Ocean City over the years were actually roundscale spearfish.
White marlin usually do not exceed 5.5 feet and 80 pounds. However, the world record for a white marlin is almost 182 pounds caught in the waters off Brazil.
Those fishing in the White Marlin Open tournament in Ocean City, Maryland also hunt for the Blue Marlin. This is a much larger fish. National Geographic describes them as “one of the largest and most beautiful fish in the ocean.” They are cobalt blue on top with a silvery-white underside. The world record Blue Marlin was caught off the coast of Kona, Hawaii and weighed 1,376 pounds and was over 16 feet long. Some commercial fisherman and others have caught bigger fish , but they were not officially weighed. These fish start life when the eggs are fertilized in the water, outside the bodies of the fish. Their diet grows as they do until the Blue Marlin becomes one of the largest, fastest swimming and most successful predators in the ocean. They slash through dense schools of fish to stun their prey and then return to eat the fish they stunned and killed.
Females can be up to four times larger than the males and release millions of eggs multiple times when spawning, thereby hoping to ensure at least one grows to adulthood. Bue marlins were originially thought to be divided into multiple species. DNA testing this time conflated all blue marlin into one species. So, if you catch a blue marlin, it’s just a blue marlin, if you can say that about one of the largest and most beautiful fish in the sea.
Their meat is a delicacy particularly in Japan. During the White Marlin Open, some fishermen keep their fish once weighed. For those anglers who choose not to keep their fish, the tournament donates any extra fish to food banks in the Ocean City area.
White Marlin Open in Ocean City, Maryland: Conservation and Sportsmanship
The White Marlin Open has been at the forefront of billfish conservation for 42 years. They proudly host this tournament formatted for anglers to win millions of dollars while maintaining very high release rates. All fishermen are required to use circle hooks which reduce the mortality rate of released fish because it increases the likelihood of the fish being hooked in the mouth. Those using these hooks are not supposed to set the hook, but rather wait for the hook to set itself as the fish is reeled in. In 2018, almost $4,000,000 in prize money was awarded. 695 billfish were caught and 687 of them were released. In 2019, the largest year to date based on boats entered in the tournament, showed well over 1,000 white marlins caught during the first three days of the tournament.
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