Few ripples as Monster Shark Tournament returned to Oak Bluffs

The crew of the Magellan brought a 313-pound porbeagle shark to the scale on Saturday. With the 429-pounder they took on Friday, they clinched the top spot in the tournament. — Photo by Christy Aumer

Compared with years past, last weekend’s 27th Annual Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament failed to produce either monster sharks or crowds.

The heaviest shark weighed in was a 429-pound porbeagle on Friday, one of only 12 brought to the dock. In 2012, a total of nine fish that met the minimum weight limit were brought to the dock. Eighty-five boats registered for the tournament, down 17 from the year before.

Oak Bluffs police said they made more arrests than last year, but extra staffing allowed them to adequately enforce public drinking laws and react to fights over the busy weekend.

Oak Bluffs police Chief Erik Blake said there were 23 arrests over the two-day tournament, six on Friday night and 17 Saturday. He said many of the calls were alcohol-related, including disorderly conduct and fights.

In total, from Thursday to Sunday, on a weekend that included the Portuguese-American (P-A) Club Feast, police made 25 arrests, most of them alcohol-related. Four people were taken into protective custody, according to Lt. Tim Williamson.

Last year, police made 21 arrests, but they were overwhelmed by the rowdy crowds. The associated partying generated by crowds in town for the feast and fishing tournament spurred complaints to town officials and police, and they resulted in several changes.

This year, tournament organizers, the Boston Big Game Fishing Club, were required to pay $17,296 for extra police, ambulance, and public works services. The cost was covered by a surcharge on tournament fishermen and fees for spectator vessels that use harbor moorings.

“The policy of having the tournament pay for the services worked,” Chief Blake said. “We were properly staffed and were able to proactively address issues.”

Harbor master Todd Alexander said he noticed smaller crowds around the weigh station this year, but the harbor mooring field was just as crowded, and he observed the same number of floating parties.

“It was as crazy as ever,” Mr. Alexander said. “It wasn’t any worse; it wasn’t any better.”

Several spectators looking to catch a glimpse of a shark said hot weather might have kept the crowds lower, but tournament organizer and club president Steven James attributed the decline to extra fees and confusion about whether the tournament became a catch-and-release contest this year.

At their annual town meeting and on the town election ballot in April, Oak Bluffs voters approved a non-binding resolution asking whether the shark tournament should be catch-and-release only.

Feeling unwelcome

In a telephone conversation Wednesday, Mr. James characterized Oak Bluffs as unwelcoming to a tournament that had funneled millions of dollars into the local economy over the years. He said it was particularly unfair that tournament fishermen were forced to pick up the cost of additional public safety services, including an ambulance stationed in town, when none of the people directly associated with the tournament were responsible for the problems in 2012.

“The idea that the people in the tournament should have been made for those police details so those bars and restaurants could stay open to the wee hours of the morning — that was absolutely inappropriate and really irritated a lot of people,” he said.

Mr. James said that Newport, Rhode Island, has agreed to host a club monster shark tournament next year and New Bedford is also interested in an event to attract big game fishermen. In contrast, he said, “Oak Bluffs is not a fishermen friendly environment.”

Mr. James said he will do whatever selectmen request in 2013, but he expects the nature of the Oak Bluffs tournament and level of participation to change.

“Just the general attitude in Oak Bluffs, that someone owes them something, is not cutting it with the people who are coming down and spending thousands of dollars,” he said. “You wouldn’t think that a town that is in the tourism business would want to treat its long-term customers the way they have treated the people in the tournament.”

Magellan was a winner

The crowds may have been smaller, but their excitement was not diminished Friday and Saturday once a boat carrying a shark pulled in. Spectators stood on their tip-toes, many with their arms stretched high holding cellphone cameras. Friends lifted one another to catch a glimpse of one of a dozen sharks brought in to the weigh station set up on the harbor in the Our Market parking lot.

Call it beginner’s luck, but three men who never competed together in the Monster Shark Tournament took first place and a $20,000 prize after bagging two sharks aboard their boat, the Magellan.

Dan Lundy caught a 429-pound porbeagle shark on Friday and matched that feat by hauling in a 313-pound porbeagle on Saturday. At the dock he had a grin from ear to ear.

“It pulled hard. I had a lot of fun fighting it; it’s an incredible beast,” Mr. Lundy said as he wiped sweat from his forehead at the weigh station.

Mr. Lundy said that Magellan, out of Harwich, has two captains — Len Greiner, who is also the boat owner, and Jason Pillsbury.

“We had been talking about going for years,” Mr. Pillsbury said. “We finally broke down and gave it a shot.”

The tournament awarded the top five finishers a variety of prizes and awards. Pounds are converted into points. However, fishermen are penalized for bringing in a shark below the 200-pound minimum.

Mr. Pillsbury described his win as fortunate, and lucky. “To get two fish in two days is just awesome,” he said. “Especially the right kind that you can actually weigh in, that’s a factor.”

Mr. Pillsbury added the weather wasn’t the best out on the water Saturday. “The seas were kind of wild, just real foggy in the area that we fished, and it was hard to stand up,” he said. “But we somehow managed to get in a bite and got back just in time.”

Chance to learn

In the past, the tournament has attracted protestors opposed to the tournament. None were in sight on Friday and Saturday.

Mr. James said the shark tournament provides an opportunity for research.

Dr. Joanna Borucinska, a University of Hartford professor of biology and a veterinary surgeon and pathologist, examined every shark brought in to the weigh station Friday.

“We collect the liver, thyroid, and gonads to look at environmental degradation,” Mr. Borucinska said. “We see if the sharks are stressed by global warming, general pollution.”

She has come to the shark tournament almost every year since 1991.

Lisa Natanson, Research Fisheries Biologist for the APEX predator program, said if the tournament was catch-and-release, there would be no reason for her to come.

“No tournament is just for science,” Ms. Natanson said. “It’s for fishing.”

“There would be shark tournaments with or without us,” she added.