Oak Bluffs acts to control Monster Shark Tournament crowds

The Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament draws large crowds of spectators. — File photo by Steve Myrick

Oak Bluffs police and the town harbormaster will change their approach to managing the rowdy crowds that gather in Oak Bluffs to watch the Monster Shark Tournament.

The controversial tournament gets underway at 7 am Friday and ends at 6:30 pm Saturday.

During last year’s tournament, town officials heard dozens of complaints from residents about fights, public drinking, public urination, and inappropriate use of town property. Police made 21 arrests and conceded they were overwhelmed by the crowds of spectators who streamed into town in the evening.

Oak Bluffs selectmen have installed a permit process for this year’s tournament and required the organizers to pay $17,296 for extra police, ambulance, and public works services. The cost will be covered by a surcharge on shark tournament fishermen and fees for spectator vessels that use harbor moorings. Also this year, spectator boats will be moved to moorings farther away from the weigh station.

Tournament organizer Steve James cited the extra cost as one reason he may move the competition to Newport, Rhode Island, though he may still run a smaller tournament on the Island.

“The location of the 2014 Monster Shark Tournament is still undetermined at this time,” Mr. James said in an email to The Times in June. “However, I am still planning to run a shark tournament on Martha’s Vineyard next year, but it’s not clear if it will need to be an all-release event or if it remains as a partial landings event, like it has been in the past.”

At the Oak Bluffs annual town meeting in April, voters approved 64-50 a non-binding resolution that would require all shark tournaments to be catch-and-release events. In town elections two days later, voters approved the same non-binding measure on the town ballot by a 225-186 margin.

Catch-and-release tournaments require fishermen to weigh and photograph sharks caught, then release them alive at sea. That would eliminate the public weigh-in of dead sharks on the Oak Bluffs Harbor bulkhead.