Monster shark tourney organizer dead in duck hunting accident

File photo by Ralph Stewart

Steven James, president of the Boston Big Game Fishing Club, sponsor of the Oak Bluffs Monster Shark tournament for the past 27 years, was one of two duck hunters who died Tuesday morning when their 15-foot aluminum skiff overturned in the Westport River with Mr. James and two others aboard.

Bristol County District Attorney C. Samuel Sutter Jr.’s office identified the dead hunters as Mr. James, 53, of Marshfield and Robert Becher, 55, of Cromwell, Connecticut. The survivor is Gregg Angell, 51, of Westport.

Coast Guard Sector Southeastern New England received a report at approximately 9 am, Tuesday, from the Westport harbormaster, who described an overturned skiff near Westport River, according to a Coast Guard First District press release. A Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter rescue crew and a Coast Guard Station Menemsha, 47-foot motor life boat rescue crew immediately launched a search. The helicopter rescue crew located the overturned skiff in the river.

The helicopter crew located Mr. James and Mr. Becher in the water at approximately 10:30 am about one half mile from the overturned skiff. The harbormaster recovered the bodies.

The helicopter crew also located Mr. Angell, who had managed to reach a small island in the river. The Coast Guard crew safely hoisted him into the helicopter and took him to Rhode Island Hospital. He is expected to recover.

At the time of the rescue, the air temperature was eight degrees, water temperature 35 degrees, and the wind was blowing at 30 knots, creating a 3-foot chop.

Mr. James was not as well known on Martha’s Vineyard as was the tournament he began in 1986, which attracted hundreds of spectators and fishermen to Oak Bluffs harbor every July. In 2004, the 19th annual tournament attracted a record 245 participating entrants willing to pay the entry fee of more than $1,000 per boat.The catch of a 1,191-pound tiger shark in 2005 attracted the attention of the Humane Society of the United States, the country’s largest animal rights group, which began a national campaign to pressure Oak Bluffs selectmen to end the contest.

Throughout the years, Mr. James was unapologetic, insisting that the tournament was good for the town, operated within state and federal fishery guidelines, and maintained limits that resulted in few sharks brought to the dock. Following years of controversy and recent unhappiness with Oak Bluffs town officials, who insisted Mr. James help pay for the cost of public safety services associated with the shark tournament, last fall Mr. James hinted that he planned to move the shark tournament to Newport, Rhode Island.

Peter Martell, owner of the Wesley Hotel, which served as unofficial headquarters of the Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament, said Tuesday that Mr. James’ death is a great shock. Mr. Martell said he enjoyed a good business and personal relationship with Mr. James, whom he described as an avid sportsman.

“He was a gentleman, very honest and honorable,” Mr. Martell said in a telephone conversation Tuesday. “He worked on that tournament for six or seven months every year. Without him I think it will go away.”

Mr. James was not married and did not have any children.