Monster shark tournament comes to town this weekend

There are Masterpiece Theater people and there are World Wide Wrestling people. Spectators shown at last year's tournament appeared to thoroughly enjoy the shark tournament. — File photo by Steve Myrick

At the risk of oversimplifying a heated argument, there are cat people and there are dog people; there are broccoli eaters and there are polenta eaters; there are people who think fishing for sharks is fun and there are those who think it is a moral wrong.

The point of my introduction is that the 26th Annual Monster Shark Tournament comes to town Thursday. The rhetoric has already begun to circle the event.

Steve Maxner of West Tisbury, in a letter to the editor published last week, dubbed this event a “tournament of shame,” and said, “This unremitting display of cruelty and disregard for clear conservation imperatives undermines the spirit and character of our Island community.”

I like Steve. He is a fine man. But I do not think the facts underpin his view of the tournament. Offshore shark fishing has about as much effect on our Island’s spirit and character as the sight of some of the people I see strolling Circuit Avenue eating a triple scoop ice cream cone in the evening.

Shark fishing is not for everyone. It is not for me. I like my fishing on the small scale. Besides, based on my observations of the people who participate I do not have the arm strength needed to reel in a big shark while wearing a Rolex watch the size of a Big Mac.

But the shark tournament operates within the regulations set by the Division of Marine Fisheries and the National Marine Fisheries Service. I do not think those agencies have a disregard for conservation imperatives.

Over the years, the Monster Shark tournament has adopted practices intended to minimize the catch. These include minimum weight thresholds for all species. Only thresher, mako, and porbeagle sharks count and only one shark per day may be brought to the dock.

Last year, a total of 104 boats registered for the event. Over the two-day contest, 13 sharks were weighed in. Far more were tagged and released, providing valuable information for researchers.

The main threat to shark populations comes from unregulated commercial fishing operations outside this country, many of which engage in the notorious practice of finning. Last year alone, Hong Kong imported 22.7 million pounds of shark fin products, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

“The connection between declining shark populations and finning is tragically clear,” wrote NRDC blogger Francesca Koe. “Each year, up to 73 million sharks are stripped of their fins and thrown back to the ocean to die a painful and prolonged death. This is equal to over eight thousand sharks killed every hour.”

By my estimate, 104 boats equals more than 500 fishermen that participate in the tournament. If tournament opponents were successful they would save a handful of sharks that might otherwise be caught outside the bounds of the contests and further alienate fishermen who are doing nothing wrong.

I think the opponents of the shark tournament could help the species far more if they enlisted the help of these fishermen to stop the unregulated commercial exploitation of sharks. But they will not. At its heart, this is a philosophical, not a regulatory argument. Fair enough. But why is the shark tournament any more “flawed” than the Bass and Bluefish derby or the kids trout derby?

A group calling themselves “Vineyarders Against the Shark Tournament” plans to hold a march along the harbor front from 2 pm to 4 pm and a “healing meditation, candle light vigil” from 7 pm to 8 pm, Saturday.

This month, China announced it would prohibit serving shark fin soup at all official state banquets. I suppose it’s a start. I guarantee Oak Bluffs tournament organizers will not be serving shark fin soup at their awards banquet Saturday night.

Steven James, president of the Boston Big Game Fishing Club, expects about 100 boats. No gas in Oak Bluffs will not be a problem. Tisbury Wharf will provide gasoline at a discount, Steve said. For those that want to enjoy the spectacle the weigh-in is open from 3:30 to 7 pm on Friday and 3:30 to 6:30 pm on Saturday.

Launch ramp debris

I counted five boat trailers parked at the Lagoon Pond launch ramp last week. It appears that at least three of the trailers were abandoned by their owners and left as junk.

Not only are the trailers taking up valuable parking space, but ultimately you and I will pay the freight to get rid of the junk. It is unfortunate that some boat owners are so inconsiderate.

Environmental Police Sergeant Matt Bass said he will keep an eye on the ramp parking area. Sergeant Bass is the diligent type, and if there is a number he can use to trace a trailer back, someone can expect a call.

The ramp has limited space. It is not a storage yard. Strictly speaking, the spaces are reserved for vehicles with trailers. Boat owners whose passengers arrive in separate vehicles can help by asking them to double park, or park in the adjoining dirt lot.

Perhaps the Tisbury shellfish department or harbor department could help Sergeant Bass out and tow some of the trailers to a town lot. The ramp is a valuable resource and everyone needs to pitch in.

And trash

On a similar topic, last Thursday I watched Tisbury shellfish constable Danielle Ewart pull household trash out of the barrel provided on the dock for fish carcasses. It is nasty enough to have to pick up someone else’s trash, but to have to fish it out of a bait barrel takes a strong stomach, iron nostrils, and determination to get the job done.

So if you see someone sticking trash into the barrel, do mention that Danielle would like to have a chat and ask for a telephone number.

Cobia caught

Steve Morris emailed a photo of a cobia that Beany Alley caught July 8 at Middle Ground while he was fishing for sea bass and fluke. It is an unusual catch but not unheard of, given that their range is New England to south Florida. Cobia are excellent to eat.