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Capt. Mark Sampson at the helm of his charter boat, Fish Finder. He specializes in charter shark fishing trips.
(Credit: Mark Sampson)
This month’s Voices From the Waterfront features Mark Sampson, a charter fishing captain who specializes in shark fishing trips and runs an annual shark fishing tournament. Sampson owns and operates a 40-foot charter boat, the Fish Finder in Ocean City, Md.
Long before it was fashionable, Sampson promoted sustainable shark fishing and encouraged the catch and live release of sharks. He recently sat down to talk about sustainable shark fishing and NOAA’s new program that encourages fishermen to log information about their live releases of shortfin mako sharks.
Why did you get into charter fishing with a focus on sharks?
I was fascinated by sharks as a kid. When I started fishing from a small boat, sharks were the easiest large fish for me to fish for because I didn’t have to go out so far to hook into something big.
I got into the charter fishing business in 1986 because I’d climbed the ladder at a marina, and I was looking for something else to do that would give me a way to make a living in the fishing industry and allow me to spend more time fishing. Because I was so interested in shark fishing, I knew sharks would be my specialty.
Fishermen aboard the Fish Finder tag and release a thresher shark for research.
(Credit: Mark Sampson)
Why did you decide to organize a shark fishing tournament?
We came up with the idea for the Ocean City Shark Tournament more than 30 years ago because we wanted to start a shark club for people who liked to fish for sharks. Recreational shark fishing was in its infancy in the Northeast. Eventually the club fizzled, as shark fishing became more popular.
The tournament has grown, and we’re in our 31st year. Even early on when it wasn’t cool to conserve sharks, we tried to maintain size limits and catch limits. We began to realize some of the populations were suffering, and we elected to make some species “release only,” not to be brought back to the dock. It’s worked out quite well. You can look at history books and see that a number of tournaments have fizzled. I think a big part of it was they didn’t have enough conservation in mind. It was too much of a blood bath with the goal being to bring back more and more dead sharks. The public got tired of that.
Are there safety issues involved in shark fishing?
There are safety issues involved with any kind of fishing or boating. Shark fishing is not that much more dangerous than fishing for big tunas or billfish. Fishermen usually know to stay away from the jaws.
Also, dealing with a catch that has more power and strength than other fish, you have to be more careful handling the leaders and the lines.
Will you be submitting information to NOAA’s new interactive webmap when shortfin makos are released live during your boat’s charter trips?
I plan on making this a part of my daily routine. I’ll tell fishermen on my boat that it’s okay to keep the shark. I’ll also let people know they have the option of releasing it, if they wish.
Some will still want to keep the makos they catch. This may be their one shot to bring home some mako steaks, and they might be hard-pressed to give that up. Others want to catch a shark, but don’t plan to eat it and don’t want to bring it home. If we release it, these fishermen can get accolades for it. We can register it in the NOAA program, and that could be kind of cool.
What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned about sharks over the years?
Fishing in the clear, shallow waters off Florida, I’ve seen how sharks respond to bait with their amazing sense of smell. We put a piece of dead fish or carcass overboard, then all of a sudden, way off in the distance — down current — here they come!
But, contrary to what people often think, they don’t rush in and snap the bait up. They swim up close, look at it, swim away, come back, bump it — a lot goes on before they take the bait.
So, we must ask: What’s your favorite seafood?
Cobia. Whenever one of our clients catches one, I’m always hoping I can beg a couple steaks for myself. It tends to have a slightly fishy flavor, but it’s firm. And when cooked on a grill with lemon and butter, it’s great.