Monster crowd takes in shark contest
There were lots and lots of people having a good time, not many dead sharks weighed in, and few problems reported at the Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament this weekend.
From the perspective of Oak Bluffs police and Steven James, tournament organizer, the weekend event went very well. A last-minute hitch with the Oak Bluffs board of health that kept Mr. James from using a truck to donate fish to the Long Island Council of Churches did little to dampen spirits.
Captain Bob Decosta and his crew of Nantucketers won the tournament and the grand prize of a new Contender boat.
The men caught a 311-pound thresher shark on the first day and a 327-pound thresher the second for a total of 638 points. Mr. Decosta said he considers the Monster Shark Tournament to be a very well run tournament.
The Humane Society of the United States has another view and did its best over the weekend to convince people that the tournament is wrong. HSUS volunteers and employees handed out literature and spoke to people about dwindling shark populations.
About 2,000 people gathered on Oak Bluffs Harbor for the Monster Shark Tournament weigh-in Saturday. Photo by Paul Cataldo
A private plane hired by HSUS flew over the Island Friday and Saturday towing a banner declaring the contest cruel. The effort did little to dissuade crowds of people from showing up for the Saturday afternoon weigh in.
Oak Bluffs was a busy town. In addition to the shark tournament the town hosted a Ben Taylor concert at the Tabernacle and the Feast of the Holy Ghost at the Portuguese American Club.
Police had their hands full. Lieutenant Tim Williamson said the town was "crazy busy with people" with a lot of people and vehicles to move safely but not a bad weekend overall, with few arrests.
The shark tournament provided a bonanza of sorts for biologists and students concerned with shark biology. Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries biologist Greg Skomal said scientists from a number of institutions were on site to dissect sharks and gather samples.
Mr. Skomal, the state's shark expert, said the tournament is an opportunity to gather catch data that helps to assess shark numbers in Massachusetts waters. Those sampling included scientists from The National Marine Fisheries Service, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and the University of Hartford, as well as students from Salem State College
Mr. Skomal said that in several cases researchers recorded samples for other institutions that were unable to send representatives, including one in Norway.
A group that was unable to take advantage of the sharks was the Long Island Council of Churches. In the past, the tournament trucked hundreds of pounds of donated shark fillets to the organization.
However this year Mr. James, president of the Boston Big Game Fishing Club, learned from Shirley Fauteux, Oak Bluffs Health agent, that the refrigerated truck he used to supply tournament fishing boats with bait was not properly licensed to carry fish for human consumption to Long Island because it was not owned by a state-licensed wholesale fish company.
Mr. James arranged with the Net Result fish market to transport approximately 25 pounds of fish to the Oak Bluffs senior center. Fishermen were asked to take the rest of the fish, which did not prove to be a problem. Mako shark was selling for more than $8 per pound in local fish markets this week.
Mr. James said that although Ms. Fauteux tried to contact him one week before the start of the tournament with regard to the truck, he did not receive her message until Thursday. He said he faxed her the information she requested but to the selectmen's office and not her office.
Mr. James said that organizing a tournament of this scale is an enormous undertaking. He said he has been trucking the fish for years, and he questioned why the issue arose so late.
Mr. James said that during the tournament Ms. Fauteux parked her town vehicle sideways against the police crowd barrier set up around the weigh station in the Our Market parking lot in order to watch the fish processing activity. Mr. James said there was no reason for Ms. Fauteux to take up space and block people's view.
"It just seemed completely and totally inappropriate," he said. Mr. James contacted police who attempted to mediate the dispute that included a heated exchange between Mr. James and Ms. Fauteux.
Mr. James said that much of the problem had to do with poor communication on both sides. He said he hopes to meet with Ms. Fauteux and the board of health well before next year's tournament to make sure there are no surprises.
Ms. Fauteux did not return a telephone message left with the board of health on Tuesday. She was not in the office on Wednesday.
New tournament rules intended to minimize the number of sharks brought to the dock, including the elimination of blue sharks, appeared to have an effect. A total of 262 boats participated in the tournament and weighed in 25 fish.
Mr. James said the economic boost the tournament provides is significant and not just to Oak Bluffs. He said that about 85 boats spilled over into Vineyard Haven Harbor.
Michael Dutton, Oak Bluffs town administrator, said he thought the organizers did a good job of holding a fishing tournament. He said he did not field any complaints. As for the weekend, he said, "What a gargantuan number of people in town."