'Pressure group' goes after Rodeo sponsor

Sheri Kotzum | 315-4353 | @DestinLogSheri |
A 442.4-pound tiger shark was caught during the 2016 Destin Fishing Rodeo. In 2017 only four sharks were caught. [FILE PHOTO]

The Destin Fishing Rodeo is no stranger to protests, and this year is no different.

Vineyard Vines, one of the Rodeo’s only national sponsors, asked for their logo to be removed from advertising Rodeo material after being contacted by a UK-based “volunteer pressure group campaign” called Blue Planet Society.

“We use social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) to lobby and pressurize governments, industries, corporations, organizations and individuals to better protect the world’s ocean,” said Blue Planet Society founder John Hourston.

Blue Planet Society called out Vineyard Vines on Twitter, saying they should not be associated with “the killing of IUCN Red List endangered shark species.”

“We specifically campaign against the killing of IUCN Red List fish species that are threatened with extinction,” Hourston said. “We want all shark tournaments and fishing competitions to adopt catch and release rules for these species.”

The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species was established in 1964. It is regarded as the worldwide standard for endangered species, although the Endangered Species Act in the United States doesn’t include a number of the species listed by the IUCN.

Rodeo officials said they are very proactive about what they catch.

“We have some sharks that we feel shouldn’t be legal fish to catch that we don’t allow in the Rodeo,” said Helen Donaldson, the executive director for the Rodeo. “It’s legal to catch a nurse shark or a lemon shark but we don’t want to see that happen. We have our own guidelines, which are a little stricter than state and federal.”

Donaldson said Vineyard Vines honored their sponsorship and did not pull their financial support from the Rodeo.

In the Twitter conversation, it only took five tweets for Vineyard Vines to tell Blue Planet Society it had withdrawn its sponsorship and its logos would be taken out of all live and digital marketing in Destin.

“It’s just such a shame that they can go out there and they can say false things about what we do and influence national companies,” Donaldson said. “We don’t have a have lot of national sponsors, so we were really excited to have this one and the local store was really excited to be a part of it too.”

Hourston, who is an ex-angler, said catch-and-kill shark tournaments and sportfishing are the most visible aspects of the global war on sharks.

“Hanging dead sharks from a gantry, publishing a photo of a dead shark in the media, or posting an image of dead sharks on social media,” Hourston said. “Meaningful shark conservation cannot exist in the USA whilst these archaic spectacles are still acceptable."