Selectmen weigh expert view on Oak Bluffs Monster Shark tourney

Ralph Stewart

Division of Marine Fisheries biologist and well-known shark research scientist Greg Skomal provided the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen with an overview of the Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament Tuesday.

The board is evaluating a request by a group of Island residents, Vineyarders against shark tournaments, that the annual tournament become a “catch and release” event, and selectmen prohibit the weighing of sharks on the harbor.

Mr. Skomal was careful to limit his remarks to the science of sharks. He said 25 continuous years of scientific data from sharks caught by tournament fishermen is important, and he would not like to lose the information.

But he said that issue should be separate from the philosophical issues. “The motivating force behind any tournament should not be the science,” Mr. Skomal said. “I don’t think (tournament organizer) Steve James runs a competitive fishing tournament because he wants to provide a platform for scientific analysis.”

He said the tournament does not affect conservation efforts. He said Mr. James is adhering to conservation strategies established by the state and federal government that are intended to preserve endangered or overfished species, and has cooperated with every request of regulators and scientists.

“I don’t believe this tournament, any tournament, or even the U.S fisheries in general has any kind of impact,” Mr. Skomal said.

He also presented data that shows that since 1996, at least 95 percent of sharks caught by tournament fishermen are released at sea, and less than 5 percent are brought back to the harbor to be weighed in.

“It looks to me like this is pretty much catch and release as it is,” selectman Mike Santoro said.

Selectmen agreed to research ownership of the bulkhead area next to Our Market where sharks are weighed before large crowds each year. Opponents of the shark tournament cited a town policy that prohibits any sharks from being displayed on town property.

Also Tuesday, selectmen agreed to endorse a plan presented by police chief Erik Blake and Martha’s Vineyard parking clerk Carol Grant to computerize the process of issuing parking tickets.

Dukes County, which process the tickets, will buy two hand-held devices to automate ticket writing, and lease them to the town at a cost of $2,250 for the summer season. Chief Blake and Ms. Grant said the improved process should result in enough new revenue to cover the cost of the devices.