Oak Bluffs shark tournament headed for spring ballot

The Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament weigh-in attracted a large crowd of onlookers to the harbor. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

A group opposed to the Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament has succeeded in getting enough signatures on a petition to put a referendum question before voters on the spring election ballot.

“Effective with this vote all shark fishing tournaments held in the town of Oak Bluffs shall be catch and release only,” reads the question.

Oak Bluffs town clerk Deborah Ratcliffe certified the signatures of 436 registered voters. According to the town’s bylaws, 10 percent, or 353 of the town’s registered voters, are needed to get a question on the ballot by petition.

The group Vineyarders Against Shark Tournaments first presented the petition with 10 signatures to selectmen in an October 16 meeting, but selectmen declined their option to place the question on the ballot and encouraged the group to collect more signatures.

A total of 102 boats registered for the 2012 tournament, hosted by the Boston Big Game Fishing Club. The big fishing machines tied up in Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven.

Last year, Division of Marine Fisheries biologist and well-known shark research scientist Greg Skomal presented data that showed that since 1996, at least 95 percent of sharks caught by tournament fishermen are released at sea, and less than five percent are brought back to the harbor to be weighed in.