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Just When You Thought It Was Safe . . .

Is something fishy at the annual Montauk shark-fishing tournament?

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The Star Island Shark Tournament is this weekend—with over $500,000 at stake—and some area fishermen still can’t get over the luck of Joe Gaviola. For three of the last four years, he’s reeled in many of the biggest prizes, and some of his possibly jealous competitors swear there must be something fishy about it. How’d he do so well when there are 250 other boats? Speculation at Salivar’s, the local fishermen’s bar, runs to three theories: the cage (catch them ahead of time and cage them underwater), the tie-off (hook them through the gills beforehand and leave them swimming on a sort of leash), or “sister boats” (have other ships catch sharks and hand them off to Gaviola’s). Local fishing éminence grise Bill Holzman, 79, says that cheating has happened in the past: Fishermen have been caught loading weights into a fish’s belly to make it the heaviest, for example. But a cage? “A bunch of baloney . . . I don’t see how anyone could do that out in the water.” As for the tie-off and sister-boat theories, they’re “possible, but not probable.” Gaviola’s aware of the resentment (one local says, “If Gaviola wins again, he’s gonna be shark bait”) but laughs it off: “I’d check my own blood if I win again. I’d ask for a urine test on myself.” But when confronted with the conspiracy theories—especially the cage, which he hadn’t heard before—Gaviola is a little dazed. “True fisherman know that this is ridiculous.”


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