The popularity of shark fishing as a pastime can be traced back to a man and a movie.
The man was the late Frank Mundus. A charter captain from Montauk, New York, he ran shark-hunting expeditions and popularized the phrase “monster fishing” in the 1960s. The movie was Jaws, Steven Spielberg’s 1975 blockbuster in which a great white terrorizes a sleepy summer beach town until an expedition led by the colorful captain Quint — widely thought to be modeled on Mundus — kills the behemoth.
Recreational shark hunting exploded after Jaws. Like Mundus, Quartiano got his start on Montauk, hooking a thresher shark when he was around 8 years old. In 1964, when he was 10, he moved to South Florida to join his father after his parents divorced. He started doing charter excursions post-Jaws in the late ’70s, often running two trips a day. Around this time, kill tournaments, in which anglers caught dozens of the fish and received cash prizes for bagging the biggest, proliferated along America’s coasts. For five straight years starting in 1979, Quartiano competed in and won the Marathon Jaycees World Championship Shark Tournament off the Florida Keys.
Today Quartiano’s pace has slowed slightly: 450 trips annually. Because of regulations, he now mostly catches and releases his quarry, mailing information about its physical characteristics to NOAA Fisheries after tagging the fish with a plastic dart, a signal to other anglers that it has been previously caught. Some of his customers are happy with that same outcome; for others, the kill is the thrill, as it remains for Quartiano. “I can kill a shark a trip, which I normally do,” he says. “It all depends on the client — the client decides.”
Obsessing over sharks as toothy commodities ignores their great variety, as well as the important role they play in marine ecosystems. There are about 450 species, ranging in size from cigar to school bus. There’s a direct correlation between the health of coral reefs, the diversity and abundance of the marine life they support, and the presence of apex predators. Pull out all the sharks, and midsize fish species will flourish, overfeeding on smaller swimmers that act as reef cleaners. Moreover, sharks typically feast on weaker or sicker members of schools, in effect culling out disease and encouraging a more robust ecosystem.