VENICE – It’s that time again! The 16th Annual Venice Sharks Tooth Fishing Tournament kicks off Thursday.

The event started 16 years ago when the Venice Police Department met with South Sarasota County Special Olympics organizers.

“Sixteen years ago, we only had 10 Special Olympics athletes and only four boat captains. Sixteen years later we have 26 boat captains and 40 Special Olympics athletes,” said Captain Paul Joyce of the Venice Police Department.

Captain Joyce says without the sponsors, this event wouldn’t have grown to be what it is today.

Sponsors like Tervis Tumbler, Garmin, West Marine and Sea Tow Venice, a company that donated its towing services last year and is the main financial sponsor this year.

“Sea Tow’s mission statement is to help people enjoy boating and we couldn’t think of a better way to help people enjoy boating,” said Captain Craig Marcum of Sea Tow Venice.

Each athlete who participates in the fishing tournament will receive a plaque at the award ceremony.

“Not about what you catch, how much you catch. The biggest fish or the smallest fish. It’s about getting the Special Olympics athletes out there, doing something they don’t normally get to do. It’s about who can come back with the biggest fish story and the biggest smile for each athlete,” said Joyce.

The award ceremony will be held on Saturday April 14th at 2 p.m. during the Sharks Tooth Festival. Captains will arrive Friday morning at Marine Max at 7 a.m. and athletes will arrive soon after at 8 a.m. Push-off is at 8:45 a.m.