The placard around Bill Crain’s neck read “Needless Killing,” as he stood in a group with 24 other protesters outside the entrance to the Star Island Yacht Club on a drizzly Saturday afternoon in Montauk.
It was the seventh year that he and his wife Ellen, part-time residents of Montauk, have protested the club’s shark tournament, which was being held for the 23rd year last weekend. The tournament fishing had begun on Friday with 140 entries.
“It’s time we start respecting other living beings and not celebrate killing,” Mr. Crain said. “It creates really inhumane attitudes.” He grimaced and shook his head.
“We’re against the glorification of killing animals,” said April Gornik of Sag Harbor. “The idea of hauling in animals because we have a mythological idea of them as ferocious is so 20th century.”
A man driving to the tournament yelled out “f--- you” to the protesters as he passed.
“People who have strong reactions may feel a little guilt,” Ms. Gornik said.
Four years ago, the Crains reached out to the Humane Society of the United States, which has a nationwide Protect Sharks program, for support in their protests. Since then, representatives from the Humane Society have traveled to Montauk from Washington, D.C., to protest the tournament with the Crains.
“These things are wasteful and destructive and ought to be ended,” said John Grandy, the senior vice president of the Humane Society’s Wildlife and Habitat Protection division.
The group succeeded last week in convincing the organizers of a shark tournament in Fort Myers, Florida, to switch to a catch-and-release tournament. Two years ago they provoked the same switch at tournaments in Destin, Florida, and San Miguel, California. They have also enlisted the support of FishPond USA, an international fishing tackle supply company.
Mr. Grandy said that his group endorses catch and release right now “but only as a way to move away from killing.”
On Saturday morning, the group collected signatures in front of the East Hampton Post Office for a petition to stop the tournament.
“I lost my leg to a shark. Kill ‘em all!” another man shouted to the protesters while driving by.
Down the road at the docks, a tightly packed crowd was gathered. Kids murmured or stood motionless with wide-eyed and open-mouthed stares. The boat Runaway had just pulled in and unloaded a massive thresher shark. Officials rigged it to the scale and raised the grey-blue beast.
“That thresher is some fish. It’s no joke,” the announcer called out. “Guesses on the weight?” Small children at the front of the crowd called out numbers. “200…170…400!”
“369 pounds,” the announcer called out a moment later. “That is a money fish!”
On board the Runaway was Harry Clemens, a legendary Montauk fisherman who was honored last week at the Montauk Harbor Festival and who holds the New York State record for catching the largest blue marlin at 1,174 pounds.
He said the fight to bring in the thresher had taken about one hour. It was “beautiful,” he said.
Costas Vlahakis, 23, whose father John owns the Runaway, was the angler, and the fish turned out to be the heaviest overall shark of the 17 that were weighed in the tournament over Friday and Saturday. The winning prize was $25,000.
“That’s a good size fish,” said Josh Frazier, who works at the yacht club. “In 13 years of working here I’ve only seen a few as big.”
A team of scientists, Lisa Netanson and her assistant Sabrina Albrecht from the National Marine Fisheries Service were at the tournament too. Ms. Netanson travels to most shark tournaments along the East Coast and cuts open the sharks to take samples for research. They sliced open the newly arrived thresher and and took samples of its liver, its vertebra—to measure its age from the rings, stomach contents, part of its heart and its sexual organs. They also checked to see if it had been tagged.
Anglers have the opportunity to tag and release sharks that don’t meet the weight requirements through a National Marine Fisheries Service tagging program. Blue sharks must weight at least 250 pounds, mako sharks must weigh 100 pounds and thresher sharks must weigh 150 pounds. This year, 347 sharks were released back to the ocean during the tournament.
“The good part about this year is, the quality of the fish was good,” said Richard Janis, the general manager of the Star Island Yacht Club. “We have pretty strict minimum weights, which cuts down on people bringing in undersized fish. The flip side is the amount of food to donate goes down.”
Mr. Janis said that any angler who did not want his shark meat could donate it to the Long Island Council of Churches food pantry. This year, tournament officials gave the pantry about 750 pounds of shark meat, while last year, they donated 1,200 pounds.