SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Environmentalists are outraged over a plan to hold a shark-hunting tournament in the Dominican Republic -- similar to one organized after the release of the movie "Jaws."
Rum promoter Newton Rodriguez said he is planning to hold the tournament in February in waters just south of the capital of Santo Domingo, following requests from supporters.
But Bautista Rojas Gomez, head of this Caribbean country's Natural Resources Department, said Thursday he will not allow such a tournament because he aims to protect the country's wildlife. He also said Rodriguez had not applied for a permit.
Rodriguez told newspaper Listín Diario that tourism dropped and people grew afraid of sharks after the blockbuster hit "Jaws" was released in 1975, leading him to organize a shark hunt a year later that he said was extremely successful.
"It was the awakening of Dominican tourism. People began returning to the beach and people from all over the world began to visit us," he said.
Rodriguez, who has served as promoter for local rum company Barcelo, could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Tournament organizers said that hunted sharks should weigh more than 100 pounds.
Conservationists around the globe reacted swiftly to news about the tournament.
Rafael Garcia, director of Spanish-based Planeta Buceo, an online scuba diving and travel site, launched a petition that gathered more than 1,200 signatures. He and others requested that Dominican President Danilo Medina stop the tournament.
"It causes us great sadness that people hunt sharks for fun and see them as an obstacle to tourism," Garcia told the Associated Press in a telephone interview from Spain.
He said he learned about the tournament by reading comments from outraged divers on several international forums.
Shark hunting tournaments are relatively rare, although an estimated 26 million to 73 million sharks are caught annually, especially to meet demand in countries like China where shark fins are used to make soups and traditional cures.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.