As Frances Barella, 27, wiped sweat off her brow, she left a blood streak across her forehead. She was covered in blood, in fact, but the East Rockaway resident didn’t seem to mind. For the last six years, she has volunteered at the Freeport Hudson Anglers Shark Tournament and spends the afternoon gutting the sharks.
“I love it,” Barrella said, who has attended the tournament since she was 5. “It’s the best day of the year, and I get to spend time with my dad.”
No doubt, the tournament is a family affair. While the fishermen are out on their boats plying Atlantic waters to catch the biggest sharks for cash prizes, Barrella and her dad, Frank Barrella, 55, wait at Guy Lombardo Marina to slice and dice the sharks.
“I’ve been in the club 25 years,” Frank said, referring to the Freeport Hudson Anglers. “This has become a family day. It’s all about family, and here we’re all one big family.”
This year’s tournament — the 46th — landed on Father’s Day weekend. On the Friday before the competition, the Anglers held the traditional Captain’s Dinner with a barbecue, at which they took last-minute registrations. By 4 a.m. last Saturday, the marina came alive as the captains and their crews prepared to head out to sea or grabbed a quick breakfast with club members.
“A lot of [participants] come out here by boat,” Tom Tortorici, FHA vice president, said. “Over the years, we want to see people come back to the tournament and have fun.”
The weather was sunny and warm for this year’s tournment. More than 100 boats had lined up by 5:45 a.m. at Jones Inlet, waiting to hear t the air horn to signal the start of the competition. By 6 p.m., all of the fishermen had checked back in and unloaded their sharks at the marina.
“It was beautiful out, but it did take us four hours [to catch] our shark,” said Kenneth Owens, captain of the All American/Fighting Irish.
Owens and his crew traveled 24 miles off Jones Inlet, where, after a few hours, they hooked their grand prize-winning thresher shark, which weighed in at 329.6 pounds. Once they hooked the shark, they spent 20 minutes securing it and 45 minutes reeling it on board. Owens has participated in the tournament for the last 20 years. He said that taking first place made up for last year, when his crew didn’t even have a shark to weigh in.
The All American crew won $52,000. This year, the majority of the sharks brought in were makos. In fact, All American and Fatal Attraction, which placed fourth in the tournament, were the only ones to catch threshers.
Kevin Jinks, of Smithtown, the captain of the Grand Slam, reeled in a 293.8-pound mako that was good for second place. This year was the second time he and his crew participated in the tournament, but in their debut in 2016, they didn’t have a shark to weigh in. The Grand Slam crew ventured out about 50 miles. Jinks won $73,000 this year. He brought in more than the first-place crew because he had placed certain bets on the winning sharks before the competition.
“There was an incredible amount of life out there,” Jinks said. “We were lucky to find a spot where there were whales, tuna, lots of blue sharks.”
Nancy Kohler, who the chief of the National Marine Fishery Service’s Apex predators program,ensures the sharks brought in met gaming requirements, and took a closer look at them. After they were weighed, Barrella or a tournament volunteer sliceed them open. Kohler then weighed the internal organs, and examined livers. Through her work, she is able to study the life history of the sharks.
“We come to these tournaments and we look at the stomach contents, the reproductive condition,” Kohler said. “We measure the weights and lengths. So we get to gather a lot of the biological data for the shark management here.”
All of the shark meat is donated to local food banks and soup kitchens. Sometimes, at the end of the tournament, shark meat is also given out to some of the spectators. FHA President Dave Gross said he was pleased with this year’s tournament. He was most excited by the number of participants and the sportsmanship that the fishermen displayed throughout the tournament.
“We had a lot of people, Gross said. “and everyone had a lot of fun.”