The Miami Herald
Posted on Sat, Jun. 11, 2005
Mark 'the Shark:' hero or butcher?
Criticism has not tempered a self-described and unrepentant 'fish mercenary,' who recently enraged detractors with his capture of a federally protected shark.
By CARA BUCKLEY
Mark ''the Shark'' Quartiano is back from a long day's work, weary but sated, bloodied but triumphant, a Cheshire cat grin bisecting his sun-blasted face.
Perched on a pedestal at the rear of his 43-foot fishing boat, the Striker-1, a large, lifeless shark dripped steady crimson streams. By the time Quartiano's boat brushed the dock at the foot of Miami's Venetian Causeway, a large crowd had formed, hoisting camcorders and murmuring in awe at the visceral display of man conquering beast.
But in many local fishing circles, Quartiano, a charter boat captain, is not seen as a hero but rather a butcher of the sea.
From his motto, ''Filet and Release,'' to his unabashedly lusty pursuit and capture of what he calls ''monster fish,'' Quartiano, critics say, unnecessarily kills fish -- the antithesis of the catch-and-release approach that sports fishermen increasingly embrace.
''We've got a conservation ethic that charter fleets and recreational anglers follow in South Florida that we're very proud of. And we have one guy who will massacre any fish he can stick a hook into,'' said Dan Kipnis, a Miami area captain and fishing conservationist who runs tournaments. ``If we all did what he did, there wouldn't be any fish left. The guy is a killing machine.''
Quartiano is not universally loathed. Hundreds of pictures on the Mark the Shark website depict beaming -- and often well-known -- clients. Billy Strudwick, a longtime captain, said Quartiano's critics envy his ability to locate prized sharks and are disingenuous because catch-and-release anglers still kill baitfish. Even detractors concede Quartiano is a highly skilled captain, with an uncanny ability to consistently track down the biggest quarry.
But furor over Quartiano's fishing practices has brewed for years and recently crested with his release of a photo showing him splayed across three dead sharks, grinning salaciously. One fish was a big-eyed thresher shark, a protected species that is illegal to catch in federal waters. Critics, including Miami New Times, wondered whether Quartiano had finally gone too far. It is illegal to have three sharks aboard one boat, but Quartiano often Photoshops marketing photos.
But Quartiano, who revels in his bad boy image and relishes publicity, insists the sharks -- and all his catches -- were legally caught in state waters, which extend three miles from land.
He is unapologetic about how many fish he kills, having built a prosperous career out of chartering for a coterie of big-name clients, including Clint Eastwood, Robert De Niro, Aerosmith's Joe Perry, Charleston Heston, and The Herald's Dave Barry, ACTOR Will Smith and countless Sports celebs, just to mention a few.
No fish he catches goes to waste, he says. Instead, they are mounted, eaten or given to research labs. And he insists his impact on the fish population is negligible compared to commercial fishing operations, which affix hooks by the thousands to lines that stretch for tens of miles.
''My customers are the ones that want to kill fish, and I'm getting paid major money,'' said Quartiano, who is tall, barrel-chested, mustachioed and wild-eyed -- befitting, perhaps, of a man who describes himself as a ``fish mercenary.''
Quartiano moved to Florida from Long Island in the 1960s and taught himself how to fish. He runs Striker-1 from the dock by the Miami Marriott Biscayne Bay, where he also keeps an underground, bunker-like office. The office smells briny and, with hundreds of shark jaws crowding shelves and dangling from the ceiling, is literally lined with teeth.
Criticism began mounting against Quartiano in the late 1980s. More charter captains had begun releasing fish and directing their clients to instead buy replica fiberglass mounts, but Quartiano evidently ignored the trend.
In the early 1990s, he caught and hung 49 sailfish to garner publicity for West Africa's Bom Bom Island Resort. Quartiano said all the fish were eaten by grateful locals. But photos of the catch, a seemingly endless line of glittering, dead fish, horrified many, said Mike Leech, former president of the International Game Fish Association.
In 1995, Quartiano was arrested for selling six sailfish to an undercover agent, and he pleaded no contest and paid a fine. Quartiano admits he made a ``stupid mistake.''
Quartiano insists released fishoften die. (Tim Goeman, a Department of Natural Resources regional fisheries manager based in Brainerd, Minn., said about 10 percent of released fish die, a figure that climbs to between 30 percent and 90 percent in tournaments).
David Weintraub, a freelance captain, also feels that 'many Quartiano critics are hypocritical, though his own feelings are mixed.
''If they see the opportunity arise, they seem to quickly forget their thoughts on resources,'' said Weintraub. ``He goes out and kills a large number of animals, and he's quite good at it. [But] I wish he would let more of them go.''
Yet Quartiano remains unrepentant, shrugging off criticism as well as contentions that he gives fellow charter captains a black eye.
''I'm not the monster some guys make me out to be, or a maniac out there, killing indiscriminately,'' he said. ``It's not like that. I've got a client that wants to kill a fish and we go. As long as it's legal, I'm going to do it.''