BAY ST. LOUIS -- A Long Beach resident brought in what he thought was a state-record bull shark, but when he brought it in to be weighed, he discovered it was a federally protected species that is illegal to possess.
Ryan Bradley of Long Beach proudly stood by with his two sons as tournament organizers worked hard to hoist the 222-pound shark in order to weigh it Saturday at The Blind Tiger Joes & Pros Trout Tournament in Bay St. Louis.
Moments later, weighmaster Mike "Buck" Buchanan said the fish was illegal and disqualified it from competition.
"I think it's a sandbar (shark)," he said. "It's just illegal to have."
Buchanan explained that the shark was a ridgeback, which is a species that includes dusky, sandbar and silky sharks.
"Those are the ones that are prohibited right now," Buchanan said.
The ridgeback can be identified by a raised silver ridge behind the dorsal fin. The sandbar sharks are often mistaken for a common bull shark, which are legal.
Bradley thought he was bringing in a bull shark Saturday.
A large crowd gathered around the scales before the opening times as officials struggled to lift the shark off the ground. When word began to circulate that the fish was illegal, people were surprised.
Buchanan was a longtime marine biologist with the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources who is now retired. He confirmed his suspicions after conferring with Jim Franks, a marine biologist with the University of Southern Mississippi's Gulf Coast Research Lab in Ocean Springs.
Tournament director Rod Ward said "It's an honest mistake.
"As it stands, it has been disqualified. Our weighmaster has the final say. We hired him as an expert."
A lot of people don't know the difference between ridgeback and non-ridgeback sharks, Buchanan said.
"There are a lot of species of sharks out there and people need to know that some of them are illegal," Buchanan said. "And so they need to know some of the identifications."
Buchanan offered a tip to help identify the protected sharks.
"If you look between their dorsal fins, you'll see a big ridge that runs between them," he said. "That will help you identify it as one of the species of ridgeback sharks that are currently protected under federal law."