ANNAPOLIS -- Animal rights groups are calling on Maryland lawmakers and Gov. Larry Hogan to stop ray-hunting competitions in state waters.
"It's brutal," said Mary Finelli of Maryland-based animal rights group Fish Feel. "It's vicious, savage, sadistic. It's appalling. The government has a responsibility to protect Maryland wildlife."
Fish Feel and SHARK, which stands for SHowing Animals Respect and Kindness, released video for the second straight year on Wednesday showing a cownose ray bow-hunting competition, which the groups called a "cruel...bloodbath."
Nearly 138,000 people have signed a petition to end the ray-hunting competition.
"We're talking about extreme animal cruelty here," said Stu Chaifetz of SHARK. "It's medieval torture, and it should not be allowed in the 21st century."
The American Bowhunters have hosted the tournament for the last two years. John Peake of the American Bowhunters in Maryland said all 168 rays harvested during June's competition were either eaten or donated to local farmers for compost or fertilizer. Thirty-six boats competed in the competition, according to Peake.
"Most (petitioners) aren't even from this country," Peake said. "The fishing and hunting industry is a billion-dollar industry. A lot of that money goes back to conservation."
In years past, rays have been blamed for hurting the Chesapeake Bay's oyster restoration efforts. National Aquarium officials said that scientists no longer support that belief.
"They play a part in the ecology of the Bay, and it's a real danger to over-harvest them," said National Aquarium General Curator Jack Cover. "When you start taking out numbers of these types of animals -- we call them K-selected animals -- you really put the population in jeopardy."
Gov. Hogan's office did not reply to FOX45's request for comment.
Officials from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources said they have no statutory authority to regulate the ray-hunting competitions, and that they have seen no evidence that the cownose ray population is threatened.
MDNR released the following statement:
Cownose rays are seasonal visitors to the Chesapeake Bay and Maryland waters. From what we know, they come into the bay (total number unknown) to mate and give birth each summer before they disperse. We also know they are relatively long-lived, they mature later in life, and they produce a limited number of young each year.
Beyond that we have very little information about their overall population. There are no studies that can adequately assess the total population of cownose rays in our region (let alone the entire Atlantic seaboard).
Thus the department's options are fairly limited by statutory authority and available data. We lack the authority to manage these contests or tournaments and there is insufficient data for the development of a management plan (there is no commercial fishery in Maryland or a known market).
Frankly, we do not have the data or evidence that the cownose ray is threatened. The situation is further complicated because they are migratory in nature. Any management action/plan would need to be coordinated across jurisdictional boundaries (coast-wide) to be effective.
Those who wish to see the video of the competition released by SHARK can visit this link. [WARNING: GRAPHIC MATERIAL]
The petition being signed to end ray-hunting competitions can be viewed at this link.
An older version of this story incorrectly stated that Peake was a member of the American Bowhunters Association and said that the group had hosted the competition for the last 20 years.