Final decisions on whether or not the Yarmouth Shark Scramble and Wedgeport Tuna Tournament will go ahead this year are going down to the COVID-19 wire.
Initially, both events were planned to be a go this summer, but when Nova Scotia went into a month-long lockdown in May, with a phased re-opening starting in early June to help stop the spread of COVID-19, organizers hit the pause button.
“We’re hoping to be able to have the tournament,” said Brandon Doucette, president of the Wedgeport Tuna Tournament Association. “It’s usually towards the end of August. We’re hoping by then public health restrictions will be eased and we will be able to have the fishing part of the tournament. I figure the festival itself, that is going to have to be changed quite a bit. We won’t be able to have the big crowds.”
“The committee is in a holding pattern right now,” said Bob Gavel, a member of the Yarmouth Shark Scramble committee. “We had decided to hold it but right now it’s undecided pending the outcome” of the COVID-19 situation.
Gavel said a final decision will be made by the end of June. If the Scramble does go ahead, it will be held Aug. 18 to 21.
“It’s tough to try and arrange it. As soon as we announced it, we were bombarded with calls by people looking to do something this summer,” he said.
If it’s a go, this will mark the 23rd year for the Yarmouth Shark Scramble, which attracts anywhere from 15 to 25 vessels from throughout Southwestern Nova Scotia. Over the years, people have come from as far away as Australia, New York and the North West Territories to go as crew on one of the boats, said Gavel.
Each boat is allowed to land three blue sharks. Every vessel also takes a tagging kit, tagging and releasing upwards of 100 sharks for science.
“One of the main reasons we do the tournament is to provide (DFO) with scientific information on the blue sharks because they are not fished commercially. The only way they have to get data on the blue sharks is through these tournaments,” said Gavel.
If the Scramble and the Tuna Tournament are a go, organizers are looking at options for the weigh-ins that will comply with the public health restrictions of the day.
Doucette said the Tuna Tournament Association is looking into livestreaming the weigh-in on its Facebook page and website.
“We’re very hopeful it will take place,” he said, adding a final decision on the tournament and festival events will be posted on its Facebook page and website.
Sixteen vessels carrying between 120 and 130 fishermen usually take part in the tuna tournament. Each vessel is allowed to land one bluefin tuna. Other tunas such as albacore, yellowfin and big eye are also landed.
Gavel said the Scramble Committee may end up moving the weigh-in to a more secure location for the unloading of the boats to eliminate spectator traffic near the fishermen or the committee.
“As we go along, if we can find some way to have it, we will,” said Gavel.
One thing that will be done this summer, whether the Scramble is a go or not, is the installation of the fibreglass, life-size replica of the Canadian record-setting short fin mako shark caught during the 2004 Yarmouth Shark Scramble by Jamie Doucette aboard the Pembroke Princess, said Gavel.
The mako weighed in at 1,084.28 pounds, was 11’4” in length, 7’ around and 21 years old. The plans are to mount and display the replica at Rudder’s Wharf on the Yarmouth waterfront.