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In one of the photos that charter-fishing captain Mark Quartiano distributed two weeks ago publicizing his latest catch, he is sprawled across a heap of very large dead sharks. He grins lasciviously at the camera and splays his legs while one hand caresses a fin and the other holds a shark's mouth agape. The tableau is reminiscent of an orgy at a sleazy porno shoot -- Quartiano indulging his bloodlust a little too literally. Adding to the aura of obscenity is the fact that among the dead is one species of shark so rare it is federally protected. Quartiano knows this but simply doesn't care.
Amid the carnival of excess that relentlessly threatens to swamp South Florida in its tawdriness and gluttony, Quartiano serves as ringmaster. Having dubbed himself "Mark the Shark" (complete with registered trademark), he embraces all that is repugnant in South Florida's tourist-based charter-fishing industry, which has helped push our offshore fishery to the edge of crisis.
Speaking by phone from his boat, Quartiano scoffs at the suggestion he took the big shark illegally. "You're wrong!" he bellows. "Call me back when you get your facts straight." Click.
Quartiano is a crazed self-promotion machine, spewing a continual torrent of blathering prose from his Website, newsletter, and so-called press releases boasting of the carnage he inflicts on local marine life. A Website boast: "Charter Legend, Captain 'Mark The Shark'® has been credited for capturing more sharks on rod and reel than any human being on the planet!" In his world, everything is "monster" size -- monster sharks, monster fishing, monster catches, and he is the monster killer.
His hubris has paid off. He's hoodwinked all manner of media into hyping his sea-life butchery. The Discovery Channel, network news, MTV, the Dating Show, and former Miami Herald funnyman Dave Barry have all used him as bait to hook our attention-deficit brains and keep us from flipping the channel or turning the page. In turn this has lured celebrities onto the deck of his 50-foot Hatteras -- actor Will Smith, America's Most Wanted host John Walsh, Aerosmith's Joey Kramer, a pack of Atlanta Falcons players in town for the Super Bowl, and more. Quartiano has successfully packaged an illusion of angling that has nothing to do with nature and everything to do with bloody spectacle. (See "Hooked on Death," Miami New Times, April 11, 2002.)
Not surprising, his disgusting approach to making a living from the sea has earned him a reputation as oily and rank as a chum line. In 2003 WSVN-TV (Channel 7) sailed off with Quartiano to shoot one of those mindless-fluff segments with weathergirl Jackie Johnson. After airing a promo for the piece, however, the station received hundreds of calls and e-mails from viewers complaining that Quartiano was scum at the bottom of the bait barrel. "In all my years in the business, I've never seen a reaction like this," Alice Jacobs, WSVN's vice president for news, told New Times Broward-Palm Beach. "There was an outcry from our viewers that Mark the Shark was an unethical sportfisherman." The station canceled the segment.
That outcry isn't solely a response to his macho beer-and-babes marketing style, but also to his notorious practice of slaughtering depleted and endangered fish and defying state and federal laws meant to protect them. At a time when conscientious sport anglers promote the catch-and-release ethic (especially for billfish) as the only hope for the future of our overfished waters, Quartiano's response, cynically displayed on a menacing skull-and-crossbones Website banner, is this: "Fillet and release."
Last year state officials cited him for not having a license to operate his charter boat, but prosecutors dropped the charge. In 1995 Quartiano was snagged selling six sailfish to an undercover Florida Marine Patrol officer in two separate transactions. Although sailfish can be caught recreationally, they cannot be bought or sold. Most true sportsmen release sailfish, which are not considered edible. Quartiano claimed he'd never before sold sailfish and was in a vulnerable situation after the clients who caught the fish refused to pay his full $500 fee. "I feel I was definitely entrapped," he whined to the Herald. "We haven't sold any [sailfish] ever, except to one overzealous Marine Patrol guy." He pleaded guilty and ended up paying a $6600 federal fine and performing 100 hours of community service.
Neither penalty made much of an impression on Quartiano. Last week he merrily circulated his self-proclaimed press release touting his slaughter of a 668-pound, federally protected bigeye thresher shark, along with a hammerhead shark and what appears to be a blue shark. Several species of hammerhead have been recommended for protection status by conservation groups because their numbers have dwindled dramatically.
"First ever grand slam of Killer Sharks caught off Miami Beach by Mark the Shark!" shouts the prose that accompanies the photos. Never mind that these are deep-water sharks and don't come into contact with humans unless we go looking for them. "These are not sharks regularly implicated in any interaction with humans," says Sonja Fordham, international fish conservation program manager at the Ocean Conservancy in Washington, D.C.
I forwarded Quartiano's pictures to Fordham, who in turn took them to biologist colleagues. "I conferred with several people and it's definitely a bigeye thresher. You can tell from the grooves in the head, the big eyes, the coloration, and the shape of the tail," Fordham reports. "He's breaking the rules."