By DAVID RAINER

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Identifying different shark species can be difficult even for an avid offshore angler. Even fisheries biologists sometimes have to take a closer look to determine a certain species. In the case of the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo (ADSFR), the largest fishing event in the world, shark identification usually had to happen after the fish hit the weigh dock. In previous rodeos, several sharks, including species that didn’t qualify, died in the process.

No more. Thanks to the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, the 82nd annual rodeo will be the first to have a Shark Catch-And-Release category that will keep the sharks from being landed and give anglers a shot at a guaranteed $10,000 payout.

“Shark is no longer a regular category of the rodeo,” said Rodeo President Kevin Maurin. “It is a 100-percent no-kill category. That’s our biggest conservation move this year.”

Maurin agreed that properly identifying sharks is a difficult proposition for most who fish the rodeo, which attracts 3,000 people to the Alabama Gulf Coast each July.

“That’s very true,” he said. “We took that into account this year and we limited the number of species that will be awarded points. Those species should be easy to recognize.”

Anglers will be awarded points according to species, with a mako shark worth 6 points, while bull sharks, hammerheads and tiger sharks are worth 4 points each. Blacktips and spinner sharks are worth a point apiece. If more than 30 boats enter the special shark category, entrants will have a chance to win a 50/50 split of the pot.

“Another thing we’re doing is having a mandatory captains’ meeting for the shark guys to educate them on what we’re doing and what they need to look for to identify a shark,” Maurin said. “We’ll have Dr. Bob Shipp (longtime rodeo judge), Dr. Sean Powers (assistant judge) and Dr. Marcus Drymon (shark expert) there to help make it easier for the fishermen, not just for the rodeo but anytime they’re fishing, to tell which species of shark it is. We hope this will bring awareness of the shark conservation issue to everybody.

“We’re also going to pass out brochures, and we’ll have a website where Dr. Drymon will talk about how to properly catch and release a shark. We’re trying our best to educate the anglers who are going to target these shark species.”

The mandatory captains’ meetings for the Guy Harvey Shark category, the Raymarine Big Game Jackpot and the Pronto Pawn King Mackerel Jackpot will again have a location in Orange Beach at J&M Tackle in addition to the rodeo site on Dauphin Island. The mandatory captains’ meeting and sign-out for the Guy Harvey Shark category is at 5 p.m. July 16. The mandatory captains’ meetings for the Raymarine Big Game Jackpot, Pronto Pawn King Mackerel Jackpot and the optional cash prize division will be from 6-8 p.m. July 16. Anglers unable to attend the captains’ meetings must sign out at the ADSFR site by 5 a.m. on July 17. Late sign-out is not available in Orange Beach.

The ADSFR is extending its conservation efforts to speckled trout as well. The rodeo has added an optional live weigh-in for all speckled trout jackpot and cash prizes entrants. If the angler weighs a live fish, they will have a chance for a $1,500 top prize. A $500 gift card will be given in a random drawing from among all live weigh-in participants.

“Basically, the way that is going to work is if an angler wishes to weigh in a live fish in the cash prizes or jackpot categories, they can weigh the fish and release it alive,” Maurin said. “They will go into the cash prizes and/or jackpot competition, but they are also going to go into a live weigh-in category where they’ll be competing against a select group for significant prizes.”

Every angler who weighs in a legal fish in the 82nd ADSFR will be entered into a drawing for a 22-foot Contender Boat outfitted with a Yamaha motor with trailer.

A special July season for red snapper and gray triggerfish in Alabama state waters will allow the ADSFR to add those species back into the rodeo. Anglers who catch those species during the rodeo should be aware that, while Alabama authorities are recognizing a 9-mile limit for state waters, federal authorities recognize a 3-mile limit for state waters.

“Having red snapper and triggerfish as regular rodeo categories again is big,” Maurin said. “We haven’t had those in several years.”

In 2011, the rodeo was named the World’s Largest Fishing Tournament by Guinness World Records. The 2015 ADSFR will have 30 fish categories with more than $500,000 in cash and prizes.

Maurin said although weather

is always a big factor in the turnout for the rodeo, he thinks excitement is high right now.

“From what we’ve seen so far, ticket sales are going well,” he said. “It looks like another great year if the weather will hold out. If the weather looks good, with this new shark category and its $10,000 guaranteed payout and the largest boat we’ve ever given away in a random drawing, it’s looking like it could be another record-breaking year.

“We want to thank the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation. We pitched the idea of a catch-and-release shark category. They loved it and took it from there. The shark category will be just like any other catch-and-release competition. It will be videoed with a tournament designator, just like our tarpon catch-and-release. The video will be brought to the weigh station and checked by our judges, and points will be awarded from there.”

To set the stage for the big rodeo, the 57th Annual Roy Martin Young Anglers Tournament, sponsored by Exxon-Mobil, will be held Saturday, July 11. The tournament begins at 5 a.m., and the weigh station will be open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. The Roy Martin event is open to all anglers 15 years old and younger. The young anglers will be competing in 31 fish categories. Proceeds from the Roy Martin Young Angler’s Tournament will go toward the annual Children’s Christmas Shopping Tour sponsored by the Mobile Jaycees.

The weigh station for the ADSFR will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Fishing will begin with a ceremonial cannon blast at 5 a.m. on July 17 and will conclude with another cannon blast at 5 p.m. July 19.

Also with marine conservation in mind, the ADSFR has donated more than $200,000 towards marine research and scholarships to the University of South Alabama’s Department of Marine Sciences in the past 10 years.

Visit www.adsfr.com for ticket locations, rodeo rules and other details.

PHOTO: (David Rainer) Although sharks weighed in at the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo was an attraction for spectators, the rodeo made a conservation-minded decision to start a catch-and-release only shark category with the help of the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation. The rodeo, which runs July 17-19, has also implemented an optional live weigh-in category for speckled trout .

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