By John Macone
---- — NEWBURYPORT — The city had its own “Shark Week” this weekend, as local fisherman Bob Cloutier landed a monster on the waterfront that was just a few pounds shy of the state’s all-time record for thresher sharks.
On Saturday afternoon, Cloutier’s Newburyport-based charter boat was about 60 miles off the local coast when Cloutier said his nephew Zach Cloutier hooked a fish that instantly caught their attention.
“The fish took a lot of line, so I knew it was something out of the ordinary,” said Bob Cloutier.
It was something that isn’t normally seen in these parts — a 609-pound thresher shark. In the world of sharks, it’s an unusual creature — it has an extra-long extension on its upper tail that is nearly as long as its body. It uses it to slap the surface of the water to herd its prey.
It also has an extraordinary behavior that the Cloutiers witnessed several times — thresher sharks leap out of the water, sometimes several feet in the air. It’s a sight that is stunning and frightening even to the saltiest of ocean fishermen.
“We saw it jump a few times. It gave a heck of a show,” said Bob Cloutier, of Dracut.
For the next two and a half hours, Zach Cloutier battled hard to get the fish to the boat. When it finally reached the boat, Bob Cloutier said he had a new problem to deal with: how to get it aboard. Even with four grown men aboard, the task was impossible. The crew considered tying the shark to the side of the boat, but it would have taken many hours to slowly pull it into Newburyport.
A radio call brought another fisherman to their aid, and with the help of his block and tackle, the shark was hauled aboard the 30-foot-long Sailfish center console boat.
“Even with that (block and tackle), it was tough getting it over the side of the boat,” said Bob Cloutier. “I wasn’t prepared for how big it was. It was almost problematic.”
Bob Cloutier, who with his brother Ed runs a local charter service called Fishy Bizness Sportfishing, has caught several thresher sharks in the 20-plus years he’s been fishing. But they have generally run between 150 and 300 pounds, he said.
The shark was brought to the Newburyport fishing pier, next to the harbormaster’s shack on the city’s boardwalk. There Harbormaster Paul Hogg took a photo of the fish and the four men who were on board the vessel when it was caught.
“It was pretty close to the state record,” Hogg said.
The state record is 630 pounds for a thresher shark caught off Martha’s Vineyard in July 2011. Hogg speculated that the Cloutiers’ shark had a chance at breaking that record, but a delay in weighing it likely shrank its weight somewhat. The shark couldn’t be immediately weighed in Newburyport, and so it was brought to Seabrook’s Yankee Coop the following day where a scale large enough to weigh it was available. Hogg said the shark likely lost a few pounds in the intervening hours, as fluids left its body.
Every year the state Division of Marine Fisheries gives out awards for the largest fish caught in a number of different species categories. Hogg said he’s learned that it’s all but assured that the Cloutiers’ shark will win this year’s thresher shark category.
A spokesman for the state Division of Marine Fisheries could not be reached for comment as of press time. The largest known thresher sharks grow to 1,100 pounds. They eat fish that are common in local waters — mackerel, juvenile tuna and bluefish.
The shark meat wasn’t wasted, Bob Cloutier said. It was cut into steaks and given away.
“It’s great to eat,” he said. “I steaked it up and gave it to everyone I know, and a lot of people I don’t.”