Team High Expectations poses with the winning (and legal) catch: a 956-pound tiger shark. Photo is a YouTube screen grab.

A recent shark-fishing tournament in South Carolina produced several notable catches, topped by a 956-pound tiger shark that caused jaws to drop during the weigh-in.

But the Edisto Watersports and Tackle tournament, held June 10 out of Edisto Beach, also generated controversy, especially after state and federal officials noticed that some catches might have involved protected species.

The Charlotte Observer on Tuesday reported that the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and the National Marine Fisheries Service have launched investigations based on Facebook photos that appeared to have shown one dusky shark and two sandbar sharks at the tournament dock.

Recreational fishing for both species is banned, and intentionally killing them can result in fines of up to $100,000 under federal law. (Both species are listed as "vulnerable" by the International Union of the Conservation of Nature.)

Dusky sharks are off limits to recreational fishing off South Carolina. Photo: Courtesy of Wikipedia

"Our staff looked at it, and a number of people sent us photos asking whether they were legal or not," Wallace Jenkins, assistant director of the DNR's Office of Fisheries Management, told the Observer. "Based on the photos, some of them were questionable."

Organizers of the tournament have not denied that illegal catches were made. Dillard Young, owner of Edisto Watersports and Tackle, said it was up to anglers to recognize the types of sharks they were hauling aboard.

"We go over all the rules, and everybody's supposed to abide by the rules and it seems like a couple of them didn't and got tickets," he said. "Those guys are smart enough that if they thought they had an illegal shark they wouldn't put it on the scale."

Sandbar sharks can resemble bull sharks, but it’s the responsibility of anglers to know the difference. Photo: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Tiger sharks and bull sharks were the primary targets. Catching both is legal, as long as the sharks meet minimum size requirements. It's the responsibility of anglers, however, not to misidentify dusky sharks as tiger sharks, or sand bar sharks as bull sharks.

In general terms, tournaments that allow the killing of sharks for cash payouts are increasingly controversial because all sharks are slow to reproduce, and most species are embattled, if not officially threatened or endangered. (Millions of sharks are killed each year for their fins.)

In fact, the IUCN lists tiger sharks as "near threatened," one category below "vulnerable."

Keith Poe, who tags and releases sharks for scientific purposes in California, commented beneath an Edisto Watersports and Tackle Facebook image showing the winning team: "The old fish aren't replaced overnight; we don't get a new stock next week. One of the biggest parts of being a true sportsman is conservation [and] responsibly managing a resource."

The Humane Society of the United States described kill tournaments as "grisly spectacles" to the Charlotte Observer.

A guest column for the The Colletonian, however, praised tournament organizers for helping to boost the Edisto Beach economy with an event that just concluded its eighth running. "It's becoming clear that this annual event energizes neighboring businesses and the local economy, too," wrote Jeff Dennis, explaining that many of the 35 teams this year were from out of the area, and rented vacation homes for a week.

Dennis pointed out that researchers from the University of North Florida were on hand to collect blood samples from harvested tiger sharks and bull sharks. In all, 13 large sharks were brought to the Edisto Beach scale.

A second South Carolina shark-fishing tournament will be held July 9 at Bennetts Point, according to the Charlotte Observer.

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