OCEAN CITY - There are many things to admire about the recently concluded White Marlin Open, a fixture here for 36 years.
The first is that it's a homegrown product - not some contrived corporate vehicle - conceived by a man who likes to fish and carried out by friends and relatives. It runs so well that founder Jim Motsko can actually motor beyond the horizon to the fish-rich underwater canyons 30 miles offshore to participate. That's like Bud Selig shagging flies before a World Series game.
When two state records are set, as happened this year, there's real excitement. Even Gov. Martin O'Malley showed up to congratulate Bob Farris of Charlotte, N.C., who caught a 1,062-pound blue marlin, breaking a 20-year mark, and Jamie Gill of Crofton, who caught a 254-pound scalloped hammerhead shark.
The event brings a lot of money into the local economy - from lodging and food to charter business and boat fuel: at least $10 million, according to a survey used by local officials.
Then there's the tournament's Everyman quality. In 1989, for instance, Jim Daniel caught a 942-pound blue marlin from a 28-foot boat, a record that stood until this year. The monster marlin lapped over the gunwales and almost swamped his vessel. People still talk about it. In 2003, Doug Remsberg hauled in the winning $1.3 million fish hours before the end of the five-day Open. It was Remsberg's first time marlin fishing. His catch was the first white marlin he had ever seen.
The White Marlin Open makes sure that a local food bank is standing by to accept donations of fish from anglers who don't want a freezer jammed with wahoo or tuna. Several thousand pounds of cleaned and filleted fish are distributed to needy Eastern Shore families each year.
Finally, there's the fact that for years, Motsko has set very high minimum weights for white and blue marlin to cut down on the number of undersized fish brought to the scales at Harbour Island Marina. Tournament anglers release 98 percent of all marlin caught.
All these things are true.
But something has been bothering me the past few years that has nothing to do with the tournament, per se. That something also bothered a reader, who attended the tournament Aug. 5 - the day the record blue marlin was weighed in - and sent me this e-mail:
So I tell my 13-year-old son that it should be on everyone's bucket list to see the boats come into the docks for the White Marlin Open. I wax on to tell him of watching for the flags to see what has been caught, watching the fish being hoisted up for all to see, and I tell him of walking the docks to look at the boats and chat with the owners.
[It] sounded great ... so off we went yesterday afternoon. A drive down to Ocean City to take it all in, good memories to be made.
Whoa ... what has happened? I felt as though we stumbled upon Mardi Gras, this was nothing more than a excuse to excessively drink in public. We couldn't get close to the weigh-in area, couldn't see the fish. No way could we walk the docks. As we tried to ply our way through the crowd, we had to step around young girls with wagons of beer and the huge tents selling T-shirts and trinkets (not to mention the man standing behind me who was lifting up his 4-year-old son and coaching him on how to ... whistle [at] the pretty girls)
Perhaps the 14th Street condo/marina has outlived its time as the host of the event. Perhaps it is time for Ocean City to find a larger area where people who want to see the fish and the boats can do so, and the bar tents and retail tents could be in another section with a little room in between.
This is no longer a family event, for which I am very sorry. It was a great tradition, but for now it is off the bucket list!
As the White Marlin Open's popularity has grown, naturally so has the element that sees every sporting event as an invitation to get loud and drunk. For every 100 people on hand to watch the weigh-in and hang out with friends, there's a small group who flunked charm school.
It's not an epidemic by any means, but it should raise concerns among Ocean City officials who spend a lot of time polishing their community's image as family-friendly and enjoy the city's reputation as the "White Marlin Capital of the World." They sure love the income it produces.
The volunteer dock staff has its hands full, moving huge, slippery fish from boats to scales and back again and making sure each weight is correct and recorded. It does a great job.
Granted, the tournament weigh-in is held at a marina and private condominium community. But it is patrolled by city police officers.
I sent the e-mail to Ocean City Mayor Richard Meehan to get his take on it. We've been playing phone tag, so his response will have to wait.
But with a year to go until the next White Marlin Open, here's hoping there's at least a little discussion on how to make the tournament more family-friendly.