No triggerfish, no red grouper, no problem, Destin Rodeo puts shark across the board

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

With the announcement from the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council of triggerfish and red grouper closing as of Sept. 15 in federal waters because annual catch limits have been met, the Destin Fishing Rodeo has had to do a little revamping in the last couple days. 

The Rodeo is set to begin Oct. 1 with more than 200 divisions on the leaderboard for anglers to enter their catches. Ten of those spots were held by triggerfish in all the major boat divisions, and red grouper was listed in the Reef Division. 

Nothing draws a crowd like a shark. The cellphone cameras came out as the Lady Em weighed in a 218.6-pound Mako shark last year to get on the leader board of the Destin Fishing Rodeo.

“So, in a contentious two-day event, the board of directors has decided to replace triggerfish with shark across all the major divisions and remove the red grouper,” said Helen Donaldson, executive director of the Rodeo. 

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The board looked at just taking those entry slots off the board altogether, but decided to go with shark in the triggerfish spots. 

And shark, listed in the major boat divisions, is not new to the Rodeo.  

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Ronnie McCoy shows off an 8.6-pound triggerfish he caught aboard the Sweet Jody with Capt. Cliff Cox on Day 2 of the Destin Fishing Rodeo in October 2020.

Between 2014 and 2019, when triggerfish was not an eligible species due to October closures, shark was listed in the major boat divisions. Prior to last year, 2013 was the last time triggerfish was eligible for Rodeo entry. 

Also, with shark spread across the board, students and others at the new Destin High School will get a chance to see their mascot, the shark, up close and personal throughout the month. 

Miss Destin 2020 Lauren Adams pulls a shark around so people can get a better look at it during the Rodeo last year.

Capt. Allen Staples of the charter boat 100 Proof and a Rodeo board member was in favor of putting shark across the board. 

“The National Marine Fisheries has mismanaged the shark in the Gulf of Mexico. The overpopulation has wreaked havoc on the bottom and pelagic species that the fleet depend on,” Staples said. 

Shortfin mako is one of the shark species eligible for entry in the Destin Fishing Rodeo.

Earlier this summer during the red snapper days, captains complained of sharks eating their snapper and other fish. Even the big amberjack has suffered the bite of the shark. 

“The sharks are eating twice what we get in the boat,” Staples said. “While we don’t support overfishing, we do believe all fisheries must be managed in responsible science-based ways. This includes predatory species (such as shark).” 

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Sharks have been brought to the Rodeo scales over the years, but not in overabundance. The Rodeo even had Shark Saturdays for a number of years. 

A 442.4-pound tiger shark was caught during the 2016 Destin Fishing Rodeo. In 2017 only four sharks were recorded in the month-long tournament.

The biggest shark brought to the Rodeo scales was in 2007 when Capt. Robert Hill and the crew aboard the Twilight landed an 844-pound mako shark. 

With shark in every major boat division, Rodeo board member John Brashears stressed that anglers and captains be aware of all shark regulations and which ones can be harvested. 

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Local angler Tom Milliren shows off a red grouper he caught during the 2020 Destin Fishing Rodeo. Also pictured is Miss Destin 2020 Lauren Adams.

“Any vessel that catches a shark must have an HMS (highly migratory species) permit,” Brashears said. 

According to the Rodeo rules, “all sharks brought to the weigh-in station must qualify using federal regulations, regardless of state regulations, if they are different.” 

Minimum length on all hammerheads is 78 inches, shortfin mako is 83 inches, and all other sharks (except for the Atlantic sharpnose), the minimum length is 54 inches. 

The Destin Fishing Rodeo kicks off Oct. 1, with the scales opening at 10 a.m. on the barge located behind AJ’s Seafood & Oyster Bar. The scales will be open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. through the month of October.