In Oak Bluffs, a storm of ineptitude


To the Editor:

During their November 2011 meeting, the Oak Bluffs selectmen were presented with a detailed, well-researched packet of information that summarized the thinking of many internationally acclaimed marine biologists with regard to the status of shark populations throughout the world. The stark conclusion of these scientists is that sharks are being hunted to the very brink of extinction, and our oceans are suffering as a result of this dramatic decline. These respected and renowned biologists emphasize that the ocean is a fragile ecosystem, and without sharks, the balance is lost. Without sharks our ocean food chain collapses. Killing sharks is killing the ocean.

The Oak Bluffs selectmen were encouraged to recognize that the annual Monster Shark Tournament unnecessarily contributes to the current shark population crisis. They were provided with information and examples of how other municipalities along the East Coast have successfully transformed their kill shark tournaments into catch and release events. They were advised that the town is apparently in violation of its own existing harbor management regulations by allowing the display of shark carcasses on town-owned property. Additionally, they were advised that the tournament itself is likely a town-sponsored event that takes place on town property and not a private business venture between the owner of Our Market and the event promoter. They were reminded that the payout for last summer’s winner of the so-called captain’s bet (secret wagers between boat crews) was a purported $180,000. Further, they were informed that, according to many child development experts, exposure to the spectacle of publicly displaying shark carcasses, children under the age of four can develop symptoms of emotional stress.

To date, the Oak Bluffs selectmen have stonewalled and otherwise ignored these issues. Efforts to place these issues on recent selectmen’s meeting agendas have been thwarted. Regrettably, the message from town government is clear: declining shark populations do not matter; displaying shark carcasses to vulnerable children under age four doesn’t matter; the fact that killing sharks is killing the ocean doesn’t matter; the fact that the town violates its own regulations in order to sponsor the tournament doesn’t matter; the fact that the town apparently sanctions illegal gambling activity doesn’t matter.

Our oceans are dying. Every system on earth has its limits. The time for politely walking around this important issue is over. Consecrated local business profits generated by the Monster Shark Tournament must yield to the greater good of future generations.

With regard to its relationship to the Monster Shark Tournament, the town of Oak Bluffs is adrift in a foreboding sea. There is no doubt that leadership’s subservience to business interests stands in the way of accepting reasonable scientific and moral arguments against the tournament. There is no one at the helm in Oak Bluffs town government. Captains have abandoned ship and taken refuge behind their special interest business handlers. It remains for the crew to right the ship and keep it from going aground.

Surely the courageous and wise people of Oak Bluffs will recognize the long-standing failure of their leaders in this important matter and imaginatively create a way to navigate through this prolonged and troublesome storm of ineptitude. Our children and grandchildren await your response.

Steve Maxner

West Tisbury