In August 2007 I wrote a story about a local angler who had caught a 1,000-pound, 12-foot mako shark in his 25-foot Wellcraft. A still awestruck skipper, Chad Compton, relayed the experience of landing such an incredibly enormous fish.
“I was holding myself up against the boat to keep from going over and the rod was completely bent. I thought – ‘I think I’ve just bit off more than I can chew,’” said Compton at the time. “It was massive.”
In the piece he told of the adventure and what an undertaking it was – how he heard fiberglass cracking and feared the 1,000-pound ferocious shark might capsize the boat; how he managed the manic and violent situation that is big game pelagic fishing.
But in the past five years in this area, trends and public sentiment have changed. Catch and release methods for animals like this are more the practice, and public opinion generally frowns or at least feels unsettled about the idea of killing these apex predators. So when a 800-900-pound, scale-breaking mako that was reportedly caught 15 miles off the coast of Marina del Rey, was being weighed at the Del Rey Landing this past July 4, word traveled fast.
Del Rey Landing’s General Manager Craig Campbell, who was present at the time, told NBC News that their digital scale maxes out at 750 pounds, and “it was bent before half of the shark was off the ground.”
The photo that Pacific Mariners Yacht Club Commodore Tom Hall shot illustrates the scene at the dock that day – three big men struggling to raise what some would consider a prize catch up the scale. But for others, it’s a scene of sadness – an unusually large female mako shark, dead on a slab of cement.
During the interview with Compton in 2007, he was mindful to point out that every bit of the meat of the catch was going to good use – feeding the homeless at local shelters. He understood not everyone would approve of his chosen recreational sport but was forthcoming about how intense an experience it is.
In this age of blogospheres and instant anonymous public opinion, most of the reaction to the news reports of this recent catch was negative. Most condemned it as a killing and a waste. Even on the Field and Stream website, comment after comment wondered why the fish wasn’t released.
“At the time I was there, as they were bringing it onto the dock, it was amazing because I had never seen anything so big,” said Hall. “I was kind of overwhelmed by the moment. Then it hits you that they pulled something this magnificent out of the ocean – I have mixed feelings about it.
“I’m not a fisherman myself – I have some wonderful friends who are fishermen, so I don’t mind people fishing. But it’s a little overwhelming to see a big female like that come out of the ocean and know that it’s not going to be replaced for years and years.”
Hall’s feelings were echoed in many different forums, but what may be most telling about the shift in acceptance of shark fishing is that the skipper and fishermen who brought the shark in have remained anonymous. In the past, fishermen with 800-pound fish have never been known to be camera shy.
“All of us have kind of come full circle with it,” said a prominent local shark fisherman who asked not to be named. “It’s all catch and release now. There are fewer sharks. I think everybody feels like, unless you’re going to make a gazillion dollars off of it or it’s feeding somebody, you should just get it up to the boat, take pictures of it and throw it back.”
Although this fisherman stated that he’s seeing many sharks in this size-range in his travels, there’s no doubt a mako this big is something special. Hall said he has had requests from all over the world for the photos he took this past holiday weekend.
Beyond the controversy surrounding whether sharks like this should be caught and kept, perhaps the positive take-away is this situation gave the public a unique opportunity to witness what incredible animals the local ocean waters indeed contain. ¤