Cownose ray hunt­ing con­test spurs ethics de­bate

Solomons event or­ga­nizer says an­i­mal rights group is not re­spon­si­ble for fish­ing tour­na­ment’s can­cel­la­tion

Maryland Independent - - News - By TA­MARA WARD tward@somd­ Twit­ter: @CalRecTAMARA

A con­tro­ver­sial cownose ray hunt­ing con­test in Solomons has been can­celed and another one is “in jeop­ardy,” ac­cord­ing to non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion Show­ing An­i­mals Re­spect and Kind­ness.

In a SHARK press re­lease is­sued June 8, the Patux­ent River Bat­tle of the Rays con­test planned for June 11 in Solomons was called off due to lack of spon­sor­ship.

SHARK in­ves­ti­ga­tor Stu Chaifetz said that the an­i­mal pro­tec­tion group doesn’t take credit for the event’s can­cel­la­tion, but be­lieves spon­sor­ship may have been jeop­ar­dized be­cause they doc­u­mented and ex­posed the Bat­tle of the Rays con­test last year.

In June 2015, Chaifetz, while un­der­cover, per­son­ally ob­served and filmed the killing and weigh­ing of cownose rays for con­test prizes. The footage from that event was in­cluded in two YouTube videos ti­tled “Hor­rific Ray Slaugh­ter on Patux­ent River” and “Cruel Bowhunters Shoot Harm­less Preg­nant Rays.”

Jor­dan Quade, co-owner of the tour­na­ment, con­firmed the con­test’s can­cel­la­tion and said in an in­ter­view that the event was can­celed for per­sonal rea­sons and has noth­ing to do with SHARK or re­lated or­ga­ni­za­tions.

The de­bate over the killing of cownose rays for sport is con­tentious, var­ied and on­go­ing.

“It’s plea­sure killing and col­lect­ing cash,” Chaifetz said. “Most eth­i­cal hunters are against this sport.”

“The rea­son for hunt­ing is [the cownose rays] ab­so­lutely dev­as­tate our river. They tear our oys­ter bars and they dev­as­tate our crab pop­u­la­tion. They are the big­gest nui­sance for crab­bers,” Quade said. “We bow­fish hunt for these rea­sons be­cause they do noth­ing good for South­ern Mary­land.”

The cownose rays travel to the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay’s shal­low wa­ters from May to Oc­to­ber. Dur­ing the winter, they head for south­ern coastal wa­ters, ac­cord­ing to the web­site of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Pro­gram, a re­gional part­ner­ship that leads and di­rects restora­tion and pro­tec­tion. The site also states the cownose ray “eats mol­lusks such as oys­ters, hard clams and soft-shelled clams” and “has been known to de­stroy bay grass beds and cause con­sid­er­able losses to com­mer­cial clam and oys­ter har­vests while feed­ing.”

The lo­ca­tion of another hunt­ing con­test sched­uled for June 26 in Solomons may be in jeop­ardy as well. Chaifetz said the venue for the Amer­i­can BowHunter’s Ex­treme Bow­fish­ing BIG 5 Stingray Tour­na­ment in Solomons Is­land has been changed twice. Ini­tially, the event was sched­uled to be at the Solomons Boat Ramp and then later at the Solomons Vol­un­teer Res­cue Squad and Fire Depart­ment.

It is un­clear where the event weigh-in will be held now.

Event pro­moter Kurt Wall de­clined to com­ment. How­ever, a June 13 post on the Amer­i­can Bowhunters’s Face­book page re­vealed the June con­test is still on in Solomons and the event sign-in will be un­der the bridge at the Solomons Is­land Boat Ramp.

“Sorry for the in­con­ve­nience we’re just fight­ing the an­tis games. Please work with us we can’t let them win. We are do­ing noth­ing wrong re­mem­ber that. Please pass the word,” con­cluded the Face­book post.

Chaifetz, on be­half of SHARK, does take credit for the dis­rup­tion in this event’s lo­ca­tion. The group con­tacted Karyn Mo­lines, chief of the Calvert County’s nat­u­ral re­sources divi­sion, to see if it was per­mis­si­ble for such an event to be held on county prop­erty. Through Mo­lines, SHARK learned the boat ramp is owned by the Mary­land State High­way Ad­min­is­tra­tion and is leased to Calvert County gov­ern­ment for pub­lic use. Any other use must be au­tho­rized by the state.

“I in­formed the or­ga­niz­ers that the spe­cial event can­not be held with­out per­mis­sion from the state. Or­ga­niz­ers of the event stated that they would not use the boat ramp for the event,” said Mo­lines in an emailed state­ment to APG Me­dia of Ch­e­sa­peake.

SHARK and sis­ter or­ga­ni­za­tion Fish Feel have also pe­ti­tioned Mary­land Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources Sec­re­tary Mark Bel­ton to take ac­tion against the con­test and slaugh­ter of the cownose rays. To date, SHARK has not re­ceived a re­sponse from Bel­ton’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“We are go­ing to try ev­ery av­enue we can us­ing ev­ery non­vi­o­lent tool at our dis­posal to ed­u­cate the pub­lic and politi­cians about these cruel con­tests,” stressed Chaifetz. “We are go­ing to do ev­ery­thing we can to ex­pose ev­ery­one for their par­tic­i­pa­tion in this slaugh­ter.”

If the June 26 event takes place, SHARK in­tends to take out two boats on the river. Other ef­forts in­clude is­su­ing a pub­lic chal­lenge to event pro­mot­ers, get­ting leg­is­la­tion passed to pro­hibit the hunt­ing con­test and or­ga­niz­ing pe­ti­tions op­pos­ing these killing con­tests.

Sher­iff Berry con­grat­u­lates CCSO grad­u­ate Thomas Thayer (left) and Vin­cent Pan­cotti (right).

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