There may be two ways to skin a cat, but according to Federal Regulations, there’s only one way to measure a mako – fork length.

Fork length or “straight fork length” means the straight-line measurement of a fish from the tip of the snout to the fork of the tail; that measurement is not made along the curvature of the fish’s body (as is tuna in the bluefin tuna fishery for example where length measurement follows a line tracing the contour of the body from the tip of the upper jaw to the folk of the tail).

When you Googlenoaa fisheries mako regulations” the first link that shows up is titled Emergency Regulations to Address Overfishing of North Atlantic Shortfin Mako Sharks; the bulletin released by NOAA Fisheries in March announces the emergency rule which implemented an 83-inch (210 cm) recreational size limit on shortfin mako sharks in the North Atlantic. These measures are based on the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna’s (ICCAT) most recent benchmark stock assessment for North Atlantic shortfin mako sharks, which found the stock to be overfished with overfishing occurring

“Fishermen that hold an HMS Angling or Charter/Headboat permits, and fishermen that hold Atlantic Tunas General category and Swordfish General Commercial permits when participating in a registered HMS tournament are encouraged to practice catch and release of all shortfin mako sharks,” NOAA Fisheries said in its March 1, bulletin, adding “Fishermen that hold the above permits may only land a shortfin mako shark (male or female) if the shark meets the following minimum size: 83 inches (210 cm) FL.”

As opposed to “curved” fork length used to measure tuna, “FL” refer specifically to Fork Length. I called NOAA’s home office in Gloucester, MA in mid-June and received a verbal confirmation that indeed the only proper, legal way to tape out the length of a shark is the straight fork length, snout to fork of the tail, no curving of the tape. The placement of the measuring tape between the mako’s snout and tail has been at the heart of a summer-long debate over first place in Mako Mania, and quite possibly even third place in Mako Fever, with a pair of protests issued in each of the concurrently run tournaments.

The summer-long shark controversy started when the boat Sequester brought a mako to the scales at Capt. Bill’s Landing on the Manasquan River on June 24, where Mako Mania tournament officials hung the shark by its tail and ran a tape from snout to fork coming up with 83.25 inches in length, a quarter-inch over the federal minimum size. The scale read 207 pounds, and the one and only mako of that tournament immediately took over the top slot. That very same mako was then run upriver a few miles to Crystal Point Yacht Club for entry into Mako Fever, where the Seaquester crew received sobering news about their catch, as did the rest of the tournament sharking world watching the day’s events unfold on Facebook.

“Here’s the ruling on the mako that was just weighed in by Sequester,” Mako Fever’s Facebook page noted at 7:45 p.m. on contest day. “There were two officers here, one from NOAA who is a Federal Officer and a Conservation Police Officer from State of NJ. Their decision and ruling is that the mako weighed in by Sequester was officially undersized at 79-inch fork length. Sequester left the weigh station and did not weigh in.”

“We disqualified the fish,” said Mako Fever representative John Schachel explaining how a NOAA official on the dock at Crystal Point Yacht Club performed the actual measurement of Sequester’s shark. “His ruling was that the fish did not hit the 83-inch fork length,” Schachel added. According to the Asbury Park Press which was first to publish the story regarding tournament controversy, a video posted on social media showed the shark being measured with a straight ruler, with the shark taping out at 79 inches long. The Press article noted how “measuring along the curve of the shark’s body would give a longer measurement.”

That decision of course raised a few eyebrows down Manasquan River where Mako Mania officials were tallying their own final scores. It also put the crew of the Miss Ginny, which was first to weigh in on the day at Mako Mania with a 467-pound thresher, in a unique position. If no other mako sharks were landed in Mako Mania, the next qualifying shark would be the largest thresher of the day which belonged to Capt. Timmy O’Donnell’s crew aboard the Miss Ginny.

Initially, Mako Mania had declared John Marotta’s crew aboard the Sequester as the overall winner. O’Donnell and the Miss Ginny crew protested Mako Mania’s ruling based on the measurements taken by the Mako Fever tournament. At the same time, Marotta filed a protest at Mako Fever over their decision not to allow his shark to be weighed in at that tournament, while also filing a lawsuit in Passaic County Superior Court asking a judge to declare him the winner.

Journalist Dan Radel did a terrific job of staying on top of the 58-day tournament saga in the Asbury Park Press; of course, the social media deliberations were epic as usual as you can expect in this day and age. Deciding to wait out the ruling before reporting for The Fisherman, the initial calls we made to NOAA Fisheries in those first days of the contest controversy led to very little usable input.

We did learn that tournament officials from both Mako Mania and Mako Fever had been in touch with the Gloucester office, but while New Jersey tournament folks were busy compiling all relevant information to make a decision based on a federal mandate, the folks at the federal government who are ultimately responsible for that mandate said they had nothing in the pipeline regarding internal investigations. “Not that I’m aware of on the management side,” was the more precise response from one NOAA representative.

Could be plausible deniability, sure; could also be the fact that the federal government wanted no part of recreational tournament debate. That speaks volumes as to NOAA’s corporate commitment to the recreational fishing community, but I digress.

And so, the internal tournament deliberations carried on until August 13, when an official decision was handed down from Mako Mania officially recognized the 467-pound thresher shark by Miss Ginny the winner of the 2018 Mako Mania contest, explaining that the sole mako “was incorrectly measured by curved fork length rather than the required straight-line fork length.” In an official press release, the Mako Mania Tournament Committee and Greater Point Pleasant Charter Boat Association recognized the subsequent straight-line measurement at Mako Fever that showed Sequester’s shark measuring less than the federally mandated minimum size, therefore disqualifying it from contention based on Federal Regulations.

“During the investigation it became clear that the National Marine Fisheries Service, the entity which regulates fisheries, and in particular mako shark, had conflicting publications showing different measurements that might be applied to mako sharks, including the Highly Migratory Species Recreational Fisheries Compliance Guide, and Apex Predator Northeast Fishery Science Center pages published to assist scientists doing shark research,” the official release stated. “Despite that confusion, and the apparent reliance of the crew of the Sequester on those federal publications which created a good faith mistake in this instance, the Federal Regulations trump all such publications. As a result, the mako landed by Sequester has been disqualified because it does not meet the 83-inch minimum straight-line fork length.”

“Thank god that part is over,” O’Donnell said via text on August 13. “As I said to Mako Mania from the beginning, ‘please take your time with this decision’ to make sure it’s the right one.”

“They did the right thing,” O’Donnell said.

As O’Donnell noted however, just a “part” of this ongoing hullabaloo has been settled. Marotta’s lawsuit on behalf of he and the Sequester crew is still alive, and award money is not actually being awarded to the shark tournament winners embroiled in the controversy “pending the disposition of this lawsuit” by the lawyers.

There’s a “professional courtesy” joke in there somewhere, but again I digress.