Shark tournament critics lose on ballot referendum request

Corrine deLangavant appealed to the Oak Bluffs selectmen to let voters have a whack at the monster shark tournament. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Oak Bluffs selectmen declined to place a non-binding question on next year’s town election ballot asking voters if they want the town to require the annual Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament to be a “catch and release” event.

The ballot request came in the form of a petition signed by 10 registered voters, and discussion of the petition generated sharp debate at the regular meeting of selectmen Tuesday night.

Tournament opponents want to prevent the public weigh-in of dead sharks, a spectacle that draws thousands of competitors and spectators to the harbor.

Chairman Kathy Burton said the petition satisfied the legal requirement to place the issue on the town meeting warrant, but a ballot question required the signatures of 10 percent of the town’s registered voters, or a vote of approval from selectmen.

Corrinne de Langavant of Oak Bluffs, who submitted the petition, said tournament opponents deserve a voice at the ballot box.

“We could be leaders,” Ms. De Langavant said. “A lot of people look to us here on the Island for different way of viewing the world. People are going to rebel if we don’t do something about it. It doesn’t look good for you guys, for us to go and collect 350 signatures, 10 percent of our people.”

Ms. De Langavant found limited support on the board.

“The question in my mind is not whether I agree or disagree, but whether we’re going to allow this on the ballot,” selectman Gail Barmakian said. “I never think it hurts to see what people believe on a ballot question, as opposed to town meeting. It’s non-binding: what are we afraid of?”

Ms. Barmakian made a motion to accept the petition. Her motion received no second.

Ms. Burton said she opposes the weigh-in spectacle but feared setting a precedent.

“I just can’t feel good about a petition that has just 10 signatures on it, regardless of its merits,” Ms. Burton said. That comment prompted a sharp exchange with Steve Maxner of West Tisbury.

“We followed the Oak Bluffs rules that have been established for years,” Mr. Maxner said. “We have done that, and you’re saying it’s insufficient.”

“You’re misinterpreting our intentions, but that is certainly not the first time,” Ms. Burton said.