Shark Free Marinas Initiative - Compelling, Not Repelling

"As lifelong sportsmen, and big game anglers, in particular, we don't condemn anyone for exercising their legal right to harvest an animal. We do, however, practice, promote and strongly encourage the responsible use, enjoyment and management of all our natural resources, and do not condone purely wasteful practices of any kind. Consequently, we support the Shark Free Marina Initiative (SFMI) as a forward-thinking, sensible and reasonable option that marina owners, as well as the sporting and general public should be made aware of".

Sean Paxton
Brooks Paxton II
aka The Shark Brothers

We were first made aware of this new and innovative initiative in the shark conservation arena earlier this year, during our involvement with a popular, but hotly-debated tournament in Fort Myers Beach, Florida. That competition, the 'Are You Man Enough Shark Challenge', while in its third consecutive year of sold-out angler participation, was under fire from a number of groups and individuals, passionately opposed to shark fishing; more specifically, the tournament's partial and controlled harvest format. Our initial involvement had us in a familiar angler and general public educational role, leveraging our shark and entertainment background, as part of the tournament’s companion event, ‘Shark Fest’.

In the weeks preceding competition, the tournament's founder and director, Jack Donlon, shared emails and phone calls with us, that he was receiving from various parties disputing the tournament and its format. Amidst the insults, disruptive threats and run-of-the-mill boilerplate fear-based propaganda there were some well-intended suggestions urging a 100% catch & release format. However, doused in all that extra hot sauce, those ideas missed their mark by a mile or more. Our hats go off to Jack for his ability to absorb some of what we were witness to, without distraction, and our appreciation to Luke Tipple (Director of the Shark Free Marinas Initiative) and Patrick Douglas (it's Founder) for reaching out to Jack, and then, my brother and me to share their perspective and input.

Our roles in the event changed considerably, less than two weeks beforehand, after Jack asked for our opinion and ideas about how the tournament might work under a non-harvest format. By this time, he had also had respectful and constructive conversations with Luke Tipple and Patrick Douglas of SFMI on the same subject. Jack is good at what he does and has the track record to prove it. No small part of that success is a propensity for sticking to his guns, with an instinct for drawing on the input and support of the right people at the right time.

Armed with that, he accepted an invitation to meet with community and government leaders to hear their input and to discuss the spate of misinformation being circulated to the public about the 2009 tournament. We were more than pleased to accept his invitation to attend a press conference later that day to make some important announcements that came out of those discussions.

Subsequently, in the wake of another sold-out tournament and successful inaugural festival, others have claimed credit and victory, but ultimately, it rests with the foresight, discretion and decisions of one man, Jack Donlon. However, in true fashion, he’ll be the first to say that was done with the instrumental support and encouragement of a very small handful of innovative and sensible supporters that included the Shark Free Marinas Initiative, along with my brother and me.

After those collaborations, and some mutual consideration, Brooks and I accepted an invitation to serve as Policy Board Advisers and Supporting Personalities for the SFMI. Our approach has always been to ‘think out loud’, but to do so in a way that’s more compelling than repelling; a somewhat novel idea that made for a good fit with SFMI and what we feel to be their philosophy, too.