Tourney hooks sharks, Oak Bluffs businesses net bucks
While the Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament has generated political division among local elected officials, sparked a national protest campaign by animal rights activists, and generated strong objections by residents who live near the harbor, there is one group of people who are near unanimous in support of the event.
Owners of local tourist-oriented businesses, and the people who work for them, see the shark tournament as a business bonanza, one of the top grossing weekends of the short summer season.
Doug Abdelnour Jr., who manages Nancy's Restaurant on the harbor, said business doubles on the tournament weekend, compared to a normal busy July weekend. "The guys that own these boats definitely seem to have quite a bit of money to spend," he said.
Jon Holden, general manager of the Oyster Bar and Grille, said his restaurant business is up 50 percent on tournament weekend. "It's a different style of people," he said. "Fishermen, they're a whole breed of their own. It's like going to Vegas. They're not going home with anything."
While restaurants, bars, and souvenir stores close to the harbor collect the largest share of the bounty, others say there is a very real trickle down effect for the local economy.
Reliable Market proprietor Bob Pacheco says his grocery store was not much busier this past weekend than it usually is at this time of year. But he says he will see what he calls "second-hand" spending for weeks to come. "The girls get better tips, so when they come in, instead of getting a meatloaf, they'll get a couple of steaks," he said.
The trickle down effect was a point made emphatically by Carl Cavossa, who brings a crew of seven when he motors over from Falmouth each year for the shark tournament. "If you could put a GPS tracking system on it, I guarantee you, there's a dollar in your pocket that we spent," he told a Times reporter Friday afternoon.
"Last night we had ten people for dinner at the Sandbar, the tab was over 800 bucks," said Mr. Cavossa. "That was after we went to the Lampost, and the Ritz. One of the guys wanted to go to a T-shirt place, that was the fastest $200 I ever spent."
Mr. Cavossa estimated he would spend a total of $15,000 over the long weekend.
Photos by Steve Myrick
The tournament's economic impact also reaches the town of Oak Bluffs directly, in the form of increased income from boat mooring and slip rental. While the town-owned marina would normally be sold out on a July weekend with good weather, tournament participants and spectators tend to come earlier and stay later than weekenders. They also bring bigger boats, which generate higher slip fees.
"Last year and this year we were jammed," said harbormaster Todd Alexander. "We probably pull in an extra $20,000 to $30,000."
Earlier this year, Ron DiOrio, chairman of the board of selectmen, led a move intended to push the shark tournament out of town. The board voted 3-2 to set a policy denying a liquor license to any shark tournaments. Selectmen granted the liquor license to the shark tournament for their captain's meeting and awards ceremony in the past, and routinely grant the same kind of license to other groups.
Also earlier this year, parks commissioners denied a request from the tournament organizers to erect a tent in a town park for the captain's meeting and awards banquet. Those events were held this year at the Lampost, a bar on Circuit Avenue. The parks commission granted a separate request to use another town park for event parking.
The regional tournament turned into a big-time fishing event when it became the subject of a four-part ESPN television special in 2004.
This year, more than 200 boats entered the tournament. The basic fee to enter a boat and a crew of four is $1,375.
After spending time at the harbor during the weekend, Mr. DiOrio remained resolute in his opposition to the tournament. "You're elected to lead," he said Tuesday evening. "I really do think that there are interests that are far above and beyond the business component." He cited concerns about the environment, and littering in the harbor. "I'm a business person. I think it's incredibly shortsighted to worry about today without thinking about tomorrow."
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) again this year staged an extensive media campaign to protest the tournament, which included television spots, newspaper advertisements, information tables, and an airplane banner.
Mr. DiOrio and selectman Duncan Ross, a supporter of the tournament, were both very critical of the HSUS airplane banner that was flown around the harbor and along Island beaches for much of the weekend.
"It just adds to the whole circus atmosphere," said Mr. DiOrio. "I don't think that helps."
Mr. Abdelnour believes the political opposition to the tournament has backfired. "There's more of a crowd coming to watch, with the sort of drama that the Humane Society and the selectmen have created. They want to come see what all the hype is about," said Mr. Abdelnour.
While several observers said there were more boats in the harbor than any weekend in memory, crowds around the weigh-in station near Our Market were significantly lower than recent years, according to police chief Erik Blake.
It was an extremely busy weekend for the harbormaster and his staff. Mr. Alexander said there was the usual array of minor problems like noise complaints, but no major problems this year. He makes sure harbor regulations are distributed, and reinforced to all shark tournament participants. Tournament organizers sanction participants who break the rules.
"The shark group is actually well behaved. It's a fate worse than death to them to get thrown out of the tournament," said Mr. Alexander. "The big hassles for the harbor and myself are spectator boats who come to watch. What you've got is a mooring field filled to capacity, and people keep coming in."
Mr. DiOrio also noted the large increase in spectator boats. "I've never seen such blatant disregard for the harbor, and I'm not saying it was the fisherman, it was people there to observe, with things thrown overboard, bottles, cans."