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Posted on Nov 18, 2011 in Pacific Currents
Off the Scale
by Jim Hendricks

Mako sharks seem to be getting bigger and bigger off the coast of southern California, with some approaching the grander mark.

However, we may never know just how big because a number of weigh stations - even official International Game Fish Association stations - now refuse to hoist big sharks to the scales.

One of those is the fabled IGFA scale at the Balboa Angling Club on the waterfront in Newport Beach Harbor. The club has traditionally welcomed non-members to tie up and weigh their catch, particularly if it was a potential IGFA record.

Early this fall, however, a group of anglers motored in from a night of fishing to weight an estimated 750-pound mako shark around 9 a.m., and the BAC turned down their request.

"It is at the weigh master's discretion," said club member Capt. Jimmy Decker. "Our hoist is only rated to lift 1000 pounds, at least when it was new. Now it's an antique. I was not sure if the scale would have supported that much weight. It was a liability issue. I used to run cranes, so I know if it will fail.

"Besides, none of the anglers were members of the BAC, and we were also closed - we don't open until noon and close at 5 p.m.," Decker explained.

Decker also admitted to some contempt for anglers who kill of big sharks. "Am I going to break the hoist for some yay-hoo cowboy who wants to kill big sharks? No," he answered rhetorically.

There is an alternative, according to Decker. "I have a portable scale that I will loan if a BAC member wants to take a big fish to the Newport Boatyard, where there is boat hoist that lift any fish you can imagine," he said.

Interestingly, the Avalon Pier weigh station on Santa Catalina Island also refused to weigh in the big shark that morning, but for a completely different reason. In a rationale plucked from the movie "Jaws," the weigh master said that the sight of a big shark on the scale frightens tourists.

While I question the killing of big sharks, it is not illegal and anglers are entitled take a fish and weigh it in. And so the Avalon situation seems like a sad and ironic twist. Catalina Island is where big game fishing was born. It is part of it heritage, its DNA.

Business interests should revel in the island's rich history. Instead, they ignore it in favor of creating a sanitized, virtual atmosphere for tourists where big sharks don't exist.

To me, that's off the scale. Let me know what you think.