Oak Bluffs harbor committee recommends new tournament

Ralph Stewart

Following presentations from two competing big game fishing tournament organizers, the Oak Bluffs harbor management committee voted unanimously Thursday to forward an application from Damon Sacco of Bourne and Ted Rosbeck of Edgartown to stage the Oak Bluffs Challenge tournament the weekend of July 24.

Committee members took no action on an application from Matthew Kriedel of Edgartown and Newington, Connecticut, who applied to stage the tournament the weekend of July 17.

Both tournament organizers want to step into the void left by the untimely death of Steven James in a duck hunting accident last month. For the past 27 years, Mr. James organized the Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament, defended it, and modified the contest over the years in the face of growing opposition from Islanders and others.

On Thursday, representatives of both tournaments spoke at length about their fishing experience, how their tournaments would differ from the Monster Shark tournament and the many ways in which the community would benefit.

John Breckenridge, chairman of the harbor management advisory committee, said he had asked each applicant to submit detailed information regarding their background, their experience as tournament organizers, and to list any financial partners. Mr. Breckenridge also asked the applicants to say if the tournament would be catch and release. In 2013, town meeting voters unhappy with the Monster Shark Tournament approved a non-binding resolution that called for a catch and release tournament.

Oak Bluffs Challenge

Ted Rosbeck of Edgartown spoke on his behalf of Damon Sacco, who could not attend due to a last minute scheduling conflict. Mr. Sacco is an experienced charter captain and organizer of the Hyannis Bluefin Tuna Fest. Mr. Rosbeck said three organizers from the prestigious Falmouth Grand Prix tournament would also be involved.

“This would be an offshore multiple species event,” Mr. Rosbeck said. “It’s basically the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish tournament, offshore. Instead of going for stripers and bluefish, fishermen will go after marlin, tuna, wahoo and mahi-mahi.”

The tournament will have a point system for different species and a catch and release point system. Marlin and shark would be catch and release only.  “It’s basically an IGFA (International Game Fishing Association) structure that many tournaments use,” Mr. Rosbeck said.

The contest would donate ten percent of entry fees to charity and there would be education booths and seminars on the dock for the general public while the boats are on the water.  He also said marlin and shark that are caught would be tagged for scientific research.

Mr. Rosbeck said the organizers have modest expectations for the first year, estimating a field of 15-25 boats. “Steve [James] put on a great tournament, for any of us to fill that void is impossible,” said Mr. Rosbeck.

Shark Tournament

Matthew Kridel of Newington, Connecticut and Edgartown said he intends to make significant changes in the overall tone and operation of the Monster Shark tournament, which had generated opposition in recent years from those opposed to shark fishing and the carnival atmosphere associated with the daily weigh-ins of dead sharks.

“The sharks were hung for too long at the weigh in facility,” said Mr. Kriedel. “We’ll weigh them quickly, then put them behind a screened off area where the biologists can do their work. It’ll be a three sided tent so the public can look if they want to.”

Mr. Kriedel said there would be an optional catch and release category.

As part of a family-friendly approach, Mr. Kriedel said he also wants to set up an education tent during the tournament. “I’m a fisherman, I want to promote respect for the species,” he said. “I want to set up a place where people of all ages can learn about all the different species of sharks.”

Mr. Kriedel said he intends to give ten percent of proceeds to Island charities, as well as find local freezer space so the shark meat can be donated to the Island Food Pantry and to senior centers in the fall.

Oak Bluffs Harbormaster expressed skepticism about Mr. Kriedel’s lack of experience in organizing fishing tournaments. Mr. Kriedel said that he has organized large rugby events in Newport Rhode Island, and reiterated that he has fished in many tournaments.

Richard Combra, Jr. made a motion to recommend Mr. Sacco’s application to the board of selectmen.  Douglas Abdelnour,. Jr. seconded the motion.  It was unanimously approved by seven of the eight committee members. Selectman Michael Santoro, a member of the committee, abstained.

The harbor management committee recommendation now goes to the selectmen for approval at their regular meeting on Tuesday, February 11.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Mr. Sacco applied to hold the tournament on the weekend of July 17. Mr. Sacco has applied for the weekend of July 24.