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Commission chair calls shark tourney ‘barbaric,’ opposes

By Staff | May 20, 2009

A Fort Myers Beach shark fishing tournament has drawn the ire of Lee County Commission Chair Ray Judah.
Judah called the tournament “barbaric” during the commission’s weekly board meeting Tuesday, and plans on asking fellow board members to support a resolution at next week’s meeting to formally oppose the two-day event.
“I can’t think of anything more barbaric than a shark fishing tournament,” he said.
The “Are You Man Enough Shark Tournament,” scheduled June 6-7, is entering its third year of competition at Fort Myers Beach.
Organizer Jack Donlan said he expects thousands of people to descend on Fort Myers Beach for the tournament. As part of Shark Fest, the tournament will be joined by a boat show, vendors and live music.
He compared the economic impact to that of Shrimp Fest, and said Judah’s comments are a “tragedy,” and that the tournament portion is merely a piece of the larger picture.
“We have a tremendous event planned,” Donlan said. “It’s going to be a great family event … this is the greatest event that’s going to happen on Fort Myers Beach all year.”
According to the tournament’s rules, the tournament is partial catch and release, with a bonus prize of $1,000 awarded to the angler or anglers who land the heaviest shark.
Donlan said he anticipates five to six sharks being brought back to shore during the all-night effort, but only if he approves. Meat from sharks brought back to shore will be donated to food shelters.
He added that random sharks will not be brought back to shore, and consequences await those who break tournament rules.
“The limits are very strict,” Donlan said. “If they break the rules, they are completely taken out of the tournament.”
Judah said he had spoken with Donlan and expressed his concerns over the tournament’s lasting implications.
With Lee County selling itself as an eco-friendly tourist destination, Judah worries images of sharks hoisted on cranes sends the wrong message to returning and potential tourists.
“It’s counterproductive to what we’re trying to portray to the world,” he said. “It’s more of a detriment to the economy than anything else … it takes away from the tourists who have expressed concern over photographs of bloody sharks.”
Fort Myers Beach Chamber President John Albion said the chamber has not taken a position on the tournament. He said the chamber plans on meeting today, and might take an official position, but for now remain neutral.
Albion does share Judah’s sentiments of the overall image the tournament might portray of Fort Myers Beach.
“We’re a bit concerned about that image, but we have a neutral position,” he said. “We’re hopeful the promoter would consider a catch and release.”