Organizers of Shark Fest 2009 have changed the shark fishing challenge format due to an overall dissatisfaction and a misinformed public about the killing of sharks.
During a meeting Wednesday at town hall, local officials from the Town of Fort Myers Beach, the chamber of commerce, BayWalk and the Beach Observer newspaper joined fishing tournament organizers to discuss the switch to a primarily catch-and-release format with a no-kill clause.
"We're working together with the township and the chamber to make sure it is a good fit for the community," said tournament director Jack Donlon.
"At first glance, there's a lot of misunderstanding without correct information to understand the educational aspect of it," he said. "It can be easily misconstrued. There are a lot of chain e-mails that get people alerted, who put up defenses that are very hard to break down."
Donlon then discussed an addition to the tournament. Anglers will receive a $10,000 bonus prize if they hook one of five tagged sharks.
"The Shark Brothers, who are kind of local celebrity shark guys from Tampa, are going to come down and tag five shark in the Gulf a week before the tournament," he said. "If anyone in our tournament catches one of those tagged sharks, they are going to win $10,000."
In addition to the competition, Shark Fest 2009 is a combination boat show, street fair, educational seminar and children's fishing derby. The event features free admission, raffles every hour and radio stations broadcasting live.
Fort Myers Beach Mayor Larry Kiker was asked what kind of image he wants for his community.
"We're a family beach," he said. "As I understand, there's two days of events with 35 booths and 80 vendors. They have activities for kids, and the Ostego Bay Foundation will put on a presentation and talk about the conservation of sharks."
Shark Fest is being held during the weekend of June 6-7. The shark challenge starts at 8 p.m. June 6.
"It's an overnight tournament with boats coming back in the morning, and all the digital images that are collected during the catch and release of the sharks are going to be loaded on to (Donlon's) equipment and shown on the 12-foot (Shark-Tron digital) screen," said Mickey Ferry.
Ferry, owner of Snug Harbor Waterside Restaurant and BayWalk's Mickey Ferry, will host the tournament's 7 p.m. captain's meeting on the restaurant's upper deck.
The shark challenge is in its third year. There were seven sharks killed during the first two events.
"An image of a shark hanging from a crane is contrary to what I think our accommodations would normally want to see and do," said John Albion, Fort Myers Beach chamber president.
Asked why Lee County Board of County Commissioners Chairman Ray Judah was so animated about the event, Kiker said Judah is the "ultimate conservationist."
"In his mind, this was not an image that he cared for and I guess there was a question about endangered species in some respects," he said. "I believe he is in full support of this event now that it is a no-kill event."
Beach Observer Group Manager Marguerite Burns brought the officials and press together to discuss the change in format. The Beach Observer is a sponsor of Shark Fest 2009.
"I was happy to arrange this meeting today," she said. "I think everyone walked away happy.
Look for the official program of Shark Fest 2009 in the Beach Observer onJune 3.