2015-07-23 / Nature

Second Year for Newport Shark Tournament

By James Merolla


Of the three sharks brought to dock, the 432-pound porbeagle, at right, was the largest. The mako shark above weighed in at 254 pounds. Of the three sharks brought to dock, the 432-pound porbeagle, at right, was the largest. The mako shark above weighed in at 254 pounds. For 27 years, Steven Ryan held his Monster Shark Tournament in the fishing waters off of Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard. Until, in an ironic twist, Wendy Benchley– the widow of Peter Benchley, the author of “Jaws”–flew helicopters overhead and protested over megaphones to “save the sharks.”

Steven was killed in a boating accident in 2014. Following the Benchley debacle, his mother, Doreen Ryan-James, decided to carry on in his memory.

Last year, she brought the tournament to Casey’s Marina in Newport. On July 16-18, the 29th incarnation of the event enjoyed its second successful year in Newport.

This year, Ryan-James had a staff of 18. “I think we worked very hard," she said, "and I think we did very well.”

Only three sharks were "legal" this year–large enough to be weighed in as winners. Ryan-James said that if the animals don't make a certain weight the boat owner is penalized and the fish are not kept.

She said of the sharks that are landed, killed, weighed and brought to dock, the meat is given away to food pantries for public consumption and to biologists for medical research.

Scientists can also discern if the captains are spinning a bad fish tale by using a previously caught shark. “Many biologists check the eye; they can tell if it’s freshly caught or caught a few days ago; whether the captain tried to bring them in for a prize, which would have been illegal,” said Ryan-James, of New York.

Captain James Pillsbury of the Magellan won the contest for the third year in a row, prompting even sterner honesty tests, including a polygraph. Of the three winning sharks brought to dock, Magellan landed a 432-pound porbeagle on July 17, the first day of the tournament. The following day they landed another porbeagle weighing in at 354 pounds. Crack Oar caught a 254-pound mako shark on day two.

“They won some big money, some big prizes. There is a lot to fish out there,” said Ryan-James. The first-place team will receive a $20,000 check from the Boston Big Game Fishing Club. “The prizes are split among his crew. I’m sure Magellan will have no trouble getting a crew together, since he has won three years in a row. I want to be out there, too. Not just watching what they do. I want to be fishing.”

Included in the prizes were four of her son Steve’s prized deepsea fishing reels and rods that had been remodeled and refurbished. “When he ran the tournament, Steve caught the largest blue shark in the world,” said his mom.

Looking back on year two, she said this year’s tournament was a success. “The weather was wonderful. Everything was wonderful. I want to thank Rhode Island for that."

She doesn’t expect any protest helicopters or megaphones off Casey’s Marina any time soon. The piers were full of enthusiastic spectators, and it's great revenue for the town.

“We have too many people who want us there. They enjoy us there. The captains of these boats spend a lot of money in your town for four days,” said Ryan-James.

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