Hotelier says Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament will not return

The new tournament is not expected to draw the large crowds that came for the Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament.
File photo

The new tournament is not expected to draw the large crowds that came for the Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament.

Updated 7:05 pm Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Peter Martell, owner of the Wesley Hotel which served as unofficial headquarters of the Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament, said this week that tournament organizer Steve James will move the event to Newport, Rhode Island, next summer.

Mr. Martell told The Times on Wednesday that Mr. James confirmed the move in a phone call Tuesday night. Mr. James is president of the Boston Big Game Fishing Club, sponsor of the tournament for the past 27 years, and also of several other fishing events.

Peter Martell, owner of the Wesley Hotel which served as unofficial headquarters of the Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament, said this week that tournament organizer Steve James will move the event to Newport, Rhode Island, next summer.

Mr. Martell told The Times on Wednesday that Mr. James confirmed the move in a phone call Tuesday night. Mr. James is president of the Boston Big Game Fishing Club, sponsor of the tournament for the past 27 years, and also of several other fishing events.

Late Wednesday evening, Mr. James issued a statement that fell short of confirmation that the tournament will move to Newport.

“I will issue a press release once the 2014 Monster Shark Tournament venue is selected,” Mr. James wrote in an email to The Times.

Oak Bluffs harbormaster Todd Alexander told The Times on Wednesday he could not confirm the move. “I’ve not heard a word,” Mr. Alexander said. However, in past years, once that summer’s tournament had concluded, Mr. James always booked slips for the next year before he left the Island, Mr. Alexander said. This year he did not.

“This is the first time he hasn’t done that,” Mr. Alexander said.

If Mr. James and the tournament do not return, it would come as no surprise to those who have watched the annual fishing contest dissolve into a contentious and ongoing battle, which the often fiery and outspoken Mr. James joined with enthusiasm.

The shark tournament has been a flashpoint in recent years among those who said it was good for the local economy, individuals and groups who opposed the killing of sharks and the spectacle of the weigh-ins, and some residents who objected to the rowdy behavior of the crowds attracted by the event.

In response to unruly behavior in 2012, prior to the July 2013 contest, Oak Bluffs selectmen required Mr. James to pay $17,296 for extra police, ambulance, and public works services. The cost was covered by a surcharge on shark tournament fishermen and fees for spectator vessels that used harbor moorings.

In earlier comments last spring, Mr. James cited the extra cost as one reason to move the competition to Newport, Rhode Island.

In a comment following the tournament in July, Mr. James characterized Oak Bluffs as unwelcoming to a tournament that had funneled millions of dollars into the local economy over the years. He said it was particularly unfair that tournament fishermen were forced to pick up the cost of additional public safety services, including an ambulance stationed in town, when none of the people directly associated with the tournament were responsible for the problems in 2012.

“Just the general attitude in Oak Bluffs, that someone owes them something, is not cutting it with the people who are coming down and spending thousands of dollars,” he said. “You wouldn’t think that a town that is in the tourism business would want to treat its long-term customers the way they have treated the people in the tournament.”

Compared with years past, the 27th Monster Shark Tournament failed to produce either monster sharks or crowds.

The heaviest shark weighed in was a 429-pound porbeagle on Friday, one of only 12 brought to the dock. In 2012, a total of nine fish that met the minimum weight limit were brought to the dock. Eighty-five boats registered for the tournament, down 17 from the year before.

Disaster

“This is a disaster for the town,” Mr. Martell said. “The shark tournament was my busiest weekend of the summer. I’m going to lose about $80,000, the town will lose at least $5,000 in room tax, not to mention meals and all the shopping the wives and girlfriends do when the guys are out fishing.”

Mr. Martell said he had had been hearing rumors and also didn’t have the usual repeat bookings lined up from fishermen and families who stayed at the Wesley.

“The foolishness of the harbor committee, people making decisions that have no clue what they’re doing,” Mr. Martell said. “They charged each boat $235 to pay for police and fire department. It’s not the fishermen that are the problem. It’s the spectators. The basic problem was overcrowding in bars and over-serving.”

Mr. Martell added, “Steve said Newport welcomed him with open arms. No extra fees. He’ll also draw more boats since he’s closer to New York.”

Selectman Gail Barmakian took another view. “I think this gives the town an opportunity to attract another event, maybe more family oriented,” she said.

Selectman Greg Coogan said he had not heard anything official.

“I’m not totally surprised,” Mr. Coogan said. “They said they were going to do it. It’ll be interesting for us. I know a lot of people say it’s their busiest weekend of the year, but if the weather’s good, I think we’ll be okay.”

Steve Morris, owner of Dick’s Bait and Tackle in Oak Bluffs, said the tournament did not generate a lot of business for his shop, but it is unfortunate because it brought visitors to the town and generated business for local merchants.

“I’m not surprised with everything the town put him through, all the money he had to pay this year,” he said.

Mr. Morris said the effect will be hard to measure. He cited a friend who was introduced to the town through the tournament. “He stopped fishing the tournament but continued to come for a few weekends each summer because he fell in love with Oak Bluffs,” he said.

Mr. Morris said people who objected to the sight of sharks being weighed in on the harbor had an option. “If they didn’t want to see it they didn’t have to go there,” he said.

Big fish, big headaches

The regional tournament turned into a big-time fishing event when it became the subject of a four-part ESPN television special in 2004. In 2005, the 19th annual Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament attracted a record number of 245 participating boats.

That same year the catch of a 1,191-pound tiger shark attracted national media attention and the attention of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), which mounted a determined effort to oppose the tournament. HSUS argued that the shark tournament undermines the Island’s values and encourages overfishing a species facing ecological disaster.

The Humane Society waged an intensive public relations campaign, calling on Oak Bluffs town officials to withdraw any support for the contest. Selectmen were divided over the question and turned to voters for guidance.

At their 2007 annual town meeting, 458 Oak Bluffs voters said yes and 386 said no to a non-binding ballot question that asked if the town should continue to allow the use of town property for events related to shark tournaments.

Last April, voters approved a non-binding resolution aimed at the annual Monster Shark Tournament that would require all shark tournaments to be catch-and-release events. The non-binding question did not impose any changes on the tournament, but selectmen said they would be influenced by the vote in future decisions, as they were by a 2007 ballot question.



Comments

  1. Wendy A Scott says:

    i am elated!! you cannot gauge the business lost by this event and the horror done by exploitation of these creatures. You cannot assess the damage to the reputation of Martha’s Vineyard by allowing and promoting this barbaric spectacle! Good Riddance! Start a facebook campaign to fill the hotels with animal lovers from around the world instead!!