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OC Shark Tournament comes to an end after 34-year run

(April 3, 2015) On Sunday, March 29, organizers of the Ocean City Shark Tournament announced on Facebook that last year’s competition would be the final one.

The post read:

“After careful consideration, the directors of the Ocean City Shark Tournament have decided to retire and announce the 2014 tournament will be our last. Over the past 34 years, we have worked to develop an event that would be fun, exciting and educational for both competitors and spectators. The goal was to provide an environment where shark anglers could compete for substantial prize money with responsible fishing practices.

We greatly appreciate the wonderful support we have received from anglers, spectators, sponsors, and the press over the years. We have been happy to get to know and work with so many great people and businesses along the way. All have helped to shape the Ocean City Shark Tournament into what it was and kept it going for so long. We’ve had many fun times under our tournament tent and on the docks during the weigh-ins and we know that we will miss those relationships in the future.

Thank you to all! Mark & Charlotte Sampson, Wayne & Kathy Shelton, Doug & Vicki Cymek.”

Earlier this week, Mark Sampson said it took a while for the directors to come to this decision. He said the group sat down “hashed it out and took a look at the big picture.”

“This was the right time to do it,” he said. “We wanted to go out while things were still OK. We put a lot of work into this. We never made a lot of money and in recent years we struggled to break even. In most recent years we came out behind.”

The last few years weather was a factor in low participation turnout. In 2012, 11 boats competed and no qualifying sharks were weighed. Forty-four were released. In 2013, 14 boats entered and no sharks were weighed. Twenty-seven were released.

In 2014, organizers made several changes to simplify the event and make it more affordable for participants. One major change was the tournament dates. In the early years, the tournament was held in mid-July. It was then moved to the last week in June, and in the mid-90s the tournament was held in mid-June, Father’s Day weekend, and it has remained that time period until last year. The 2014 competition took place May 29-31.

“In recent years, [mako shark] action has been earlier in the season,” Sampson said before the 2014 tournament. “Moving the tournament earlier, there is less distraction of other species. Tuna fishing has been strong mid-June and we lost participation because people want to go tuna fishing.”

Eighteen boats registered for the 34th annual Ocean City Shark Tournament last year. Teams could fish two of three tournament days. Because of poor conditions, no boats went out the first day so all 18 were eligible to fish Friday and Saturday.

Fifteen sharks were brought to the scale last year. One hundred and eight sharks were released.

Conservation was always a big part of the tournament. Each year anglers were encouraged to release sharks if they were not “contender fish.”

When sharks were brought to the Ocean City Fishing Center scale, Sampson took the time to explain to the crowd gathered what type of shark it was, discuss other species as well as talk about good fishing practices and conservation.

“I always enjoy the opportunity to speak to the crowd about sharks and to educate people about their biology and conservation,” he said.

Over the years, Sampson said he met many great people–tournament competitors, sponsors and spectators.

“I’ve met people who tell us they scheduled their family vacation around the Shark Tournament,” he said.

There have been some memorable moments over the 34-year history of the tournament, Sampson said.

On the first day of the inaugural tournament in 1981, a 627-pound tiger shark was caught. It was a new state record and the largest fish of any kind ever caught off Ocean City. Eleven boats and 33 anglers participated in the first year.

During the second year, a 674-pound shark was reeled in. The next year, in 1983, a 1,210-pound tiger shark was hooked. A replica of the fish is on permanent display on the south end of the Boardwalk near the inlet.

Sampson also remembers in 2009 when Capt. Terry Layton and the Nontypical crew brought an 876-pound mako shark to the scale. It became the new state record.

Mark Sampson, co-director of the Ocean City Shark Tournament, teaches the crowd watching the weigh-ins of the 34th annual Ocean City Shark Tournament last year about this thresher shark brought to the Ocean City Fishing Center in West Ocean City.

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