At Ocean City’s White Marlin Open, conservation is key

(Listen as WTOP’s Kristi King captures the essence of the White Marlin Open)

The White Marlin Open that just wrapped up in Ocean City, Maryland, gives away more than $6 million in prize money — but there’s plenty of evidence the anglers aren’t just in it for the money.

“We all love this sport,” White Marlin Open board of directors member Andy Motsko said.

“As much as the anglers want a big catch, they realize that to keep this sport going, you’ve got to put the fish back in the ocean. So, they do — at amazing levels,” he noted.

While counts were still being tallied from incoming boats Friday night, Motsko said 1,202 fish that had been caught were returned to the ocean.

Another display of good intentions on the part of the anglers is that most of the qualifying fish are donated to the Maryland Food Bank.

“And, that stays local too. It stays on the Eastern Shore,” Motsko said.

On the dock where some of the qualifying fish were being cleaned, marine scientists from the Gulf of Maine Research Institute were using a small power tool get into the stomachs and heads of tunas and marlins to collect samples for study.

The stomachs will reveal what the fish are eating.

“If we can figure out what they’re eating, we can see if that’s changed over time, or if we’re seeing any new fish come into the ecosystem,” Brenda Rudnicky said. “So, as much as it’s about the marlin and the tuna, it’s also about the fish that they’re consuming.”

As for what researchers need inside a fish’s head? Much like a tree’s rings reveal its age, there’s a growth similar to fingernails in the ears of fish called otoliths.

“We can actually figure out how old all the fish are that are coming into the White Marlin Open, which is really great for our stock and success in science,” Rudnicky said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Andy Motsko’s last name. It has been corrected.

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Tommy Hinkle, who won the top prize with a 79.5-pound White Marlin, is the tournament’s first two-time winner. (WTOP/Kristi King)
Brenda Rudnicky holds up an otolith, which is a small fingernail-like growth found in tuna that can be used to calculate the age of a fish. (WTOP/Kristi King)
It’s Day 5 of the White Marlin Open on Friday, Aug. 9, 2019, in Ocean City, Maryland. (WTOP/Kristi King)
A boat is seen on Friday, Aug. 9, 2019 in Ocean City, Maryland. (WTOP/Kristi King)
Crew from “Chasin Tail” pose with their 74-pound White Marlin caught on Day 1 of the White Marlin Open. (Courtesy Town of Ocean City)
The Hellsea caught at 22.5-pound dolphin on Day 1 of the White Marlin Open. (Courtesy Town of Ocean City)
Here’s a poster for this year’s White Marlin Open. (WTOP/Kristi King)
It’s the last day of the White Marlin Open on Friday, Aug. 9, 2019. (WTOP/Kristi King)
First Presbyterian Church of Ocean City accepts donations from people who want to park in the church during the fishing tournament. (WTOP/Kristi King)
A drone captures footage of Ocean City and broadcasts back to a large screen at the weigh-in dock.
A big screen at the weigh-in dock depicts images captured by a drone. (WTOP/Kristi King)
Crowds standing around for hours at the weigh in scales were occasionally entertained by the chance to catch thrown souvenirs. (WTOP/Kristi King)
Brenda Rudnicky, from the Gulf of Maine Research Institute studies some of the marlin caught during the contest to determine their ages and diet. (WTOP/Kristi King)
Brenda Rudnicky holds up an otolith, which is a fingernail-like growth found in the ears of fish that can be used to calculate the age of a fish. (WTOP/Kristi King)
A Marlin is weighed for the competition. (WTOP/Kristi King)
As fish are being lifted for weighing, before they become completely still on the line, the scale readings can vary by many pounds as fish swing or are touched by handlers. That makes for anxious moments for anglers and spectators. (WTOP/Kristi King)
Most of the qualifying fish are donated to the Md Food Bank. (WTOP/Kristi King)
The Green Turtle of Annapolis, Md. had one of the tournament’s heaviest tunas. (WTOP/Kristi King)
Anne Aramendia caught a 91 pound wahoo on the final day of the White Marlin Open; the third largest in tournament history. (WTOP/Kristi King)
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