Shark tournament issues surface in Oak Bluffs

Shark tournament issues surface in Oak Bluffs

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A group called Vineyarders Against Shark Tournaments petitioned Oak Bluffs selectmen to declare the town-owned marina shark-free.

Represented by Sally Apy and Stephen Maxner, the group asked selectmen, at their meeting Tuesday, November 29, to join an initiative promoting a “shark-free marina,” at which shark fishing would be banned or discouraged.

As an alternative, the group said it would support a “shark-friendly marina,” where shark tournaments would be catch-and-release only, and no sharks could be hung from town property.

The concept is an initiative launched in Florida, organized by the Pegasus Foundation, The Humane Society of the United States, and the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, according to documents presented to selectmen.

The local group sharply criticized the Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament, and Steve James, the event organizer, in their presentation.

“There’s no place any more in the world to be famous for that,” Ms. Apy said. “The tournament brings a lot of money to the town, but this option, a catch-and-release tournament is what we consider a compromise. You can still have the tournament, just don’t kill the sharks.”

Harbormaster Todd Alexander told selectmen the weigh station used by tournament organizers is on private property, which the town does not control.

“You can’t land a shark on town property, which they don’t do anyway,” Mr. Alexander said. “We have a policy now that you can’t put any dead sharks on any part of the bulkhead.”

Selectman Greg Coogan proposed, and the board agreed by consensus, to arrange for Mr. James and Greg Skomal, a biologist for the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, to appear before the selectmen with their thoughts on the proposal. Mr. Skomal is a shark researcher who has studied sharks caught at the Monster Shark Tournament.

“The Humane Society was not one of my favorites,” Mr. Coogan said. “They came in here, made a lot of money, and left. They were not very nice to us. I think we’ve lost track of Steve (James) over the past couple of years because it’s not in our control any more. I think it would be a good idea to have Steve come in and answer some questions. I do want to hear from both sides.”

Selectmen pointed out that shark tournament weekend is the biggest sales weekend of the summer for many downtown businesses.

“Whatever we do, I really don’t want to jeopardize the business, commerce on that weekend,” selectman Walter Vail said. “I’m not in the business of working on conservation efforts. I think our business is to do what’s right for this town. If that happens to be the right thing, somebody’s got to prove it to me.”

In his report to selectmen, interim town administrator Bob Whritenour said the Massachusetts Department of Revenue has certified the town’s free cash figure as of June 30, at negative $888,046. He said revenue from local sources, including meals and room taxes, harbor slip rentals, fees, and fines, has increased significantly in the first third of the fiscal year. He said local revenue is up $145,957 compared to the same time period last year.

“If that holds up, that will be good news,” Mr. Whritenour said. “Any collections over the last year will help to reduce the town’s general fund deficit. Obviously it’s going to take more than one year.”

The town administrator told selectmen he appointed Jennifer Morgan, assistant animal control officer in Edgartown, to be the town’s animal inspector, a position mandated by state law, to assist in implementing rabies regulations, including quarantine of dogs that have bitten a human. Mr. Whritenour said he is trying to arrange a joint meeting with Tisbury selectmen to move forward with plans to form a regional animal control service.

Also in his report, Mr. Whritenour said he is moving forward with a request for proposals to operate the town’s harbor launch service next summer. The town-operated launch faces restrictions imposed by the U.S. Coast Guard, and the town may need to replace the current launch vessel. The service operated at a $5,600 deficit last summer, according to Mr. Santoro.

“He (Mr. Alexander) has thoroughly convinced me that a privatization of this service will be a benefit all around,” Mr. Whritenour said.

Also Tuesday, selectmen raised the cost of a recreational shellfish license from $300 to $400, matching the price set in Tisbury. “It’s a bumper year for both towns in the Lagoon,” Mr. Coogan said.

In other action the board agreed to issue a business license to Fred Mascolo, who plans to open a branch of his Trader Fred’s store at 42 Circuit Avenue.

“Any business from Edgartown that wants to come to Oak Bluffs, we should welcome them with open arms,” selectman Michael Santoro said.