Monster Shark Tournament may live again in Oak Bluffs

In years past, the Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament attracted a monster crowd to Oak Bluffs harbor to watch sharks be weighed in. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

The death of Steven James in a duck hunting accident earlier this month may not spell the end of the fishing tournament he ran from the Oak Bluffs harbor front for the past 27 years. Mr. James organized the Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament, defended it, and modified the contest over the years in the face of growing opposition from Islanders and others.

Matthew Kriedel of Edgartown and Newington, Connecticut, has submitted an application to the Oak Bluffs Harbor Management Advisory Committee to organize the event, and to keep it in Oak Bluffs.

Mr. Kriedel said he intends to make significant changes in the overall tone and operation of the tournament, which had generated opposition in recent years from those opposed to shark fishing and the carnival atmosphere associated with the daily weigh-ins of dead sharks.

“Being a participant in this tournament for over 10 years, I was aware of what wasn’t being done right,” he said, in a telephone interview with the Times. “I knew Steve [James] personally. I tried to tell him to be more Island friendly and his attitude was always, ‘I bring too much business to the town, they know not to mess with me.’ When Steve passed away, I saw the opportunity to make this a more Island friendly and family tournament.”

Mr. Kriedel, owner of a car dealership in Connecticut, is an experienced tournament fisherman and he has consulted on prestigious tournaments that include the White Marlin Open and the Mid-Atlantic 500,000. He’s also worked on a committee boat in the Monster Shark Tournament for the past several years. Unlike Mr. James, a Marshfied resident, Mr. Kriedel also has long-standing ties to the Island. “I have a house in Edgartown. My family is from Edgartown, I grew up spending summers here,” he said. “It’s important to me that we give back.”

More Island friendly

The tournament Mr. James began in 1986 attracted hundreds of spectators and fishermen to Oak Bluffs harbor every July. In 2004, the tournament attracted a record 245 participating entrants willing to pay the entry fee of more than $1,000 per boat.

Compared with years past, the 27th Monster Shark Tournament failed to produce either monster sharks or crowds. The heaviest shark weighed in was a 429-pound porbeagle, one of only 12 brought to the dock. Eighty-five boats registered for the tournament, down 17 from the year before.

In response to unruly behavior in 2012, prior to the July 2013 contest, Oak Bluffs selectmen required Mr. James to pay $17,296 for extra police, ambulance, and public works services. The cost was covered by a surcharge on shark tournament fishermen and fees for spectator vessels that used harbor moorings.

Last fall, unhappy with being asked to pay for the cost of added public safety services, Mr. James hinted that he planned to move the shark tournament to Newport, Rhode Island.

Mr. Kriedel said he wants to mend relationships with town officials, which in recent years had dissolved into an ongoing battle with Mr. James. “I’d like to get the town more involved instead of the adversarial relationship Steve had with the town,” he said.

“We’re going to donate 10 per cent of the net tournament proceeds to Island charities, which hasn’t been done in the past,” said Mr. Kriedel. He added that fishermen will be encouraged to donate the shark meat, which will go to the Island Food Pantry and to Island senior centers.

There will also be additional cash prizes for Island boats that weigh in a shark, and additional prize money if they win or place in any of the categories.

More family friendly

“We want to run the tournament in a more professional, family-friendly way, especially so the weigh-in doesn’t become a circus,” Mr. Kriedel said. “Steve left the sharks hanging there for an inordinate amount of time. We’re going to quickly get the weight and let the biologists do their work.”

As part of his family-friendly approach, Mr. Kriedel said he also wants to set up an education tent during the tournament. “I’m a fisherman, I want to promote respect for the species,” he said. “I want to set up a place where people of all ages can learn about all the different species of sharks.” Mr. Kriedel said he has had preliminary discussions about the education center with experts from the Mystic Aquarium and with Greg Skomal, senior fisheries biologist with Massachusetts Marine Fisheries, and a leading shark expert.

More fish friendly

In response to a non-binding resolution that was passed at Oak Bluffs town meeting last year, Mr. Kriedel said he will add a catch-and-release division this year. Fishermen can decide which category they want to compete in, or they can choose both.

Mako, thresher, and porbeagle sharks, all of which are edible, are the only sharks that can be weighed in. All other species must be released, according to Mr. Kriedel.

Addressing the objections of people who think the tournament is a spectacle of bloodlust and carnage, Mr. Kriedel said, “I think everyone has a right to their opinion. All I would ask is that they don’t interfere with people who have other views. Displays of shark heads on boats will not be tolerated. We’re going to be very strict about conduct. You get one warning, then you’re out.”

Mr. Kriedel said that because of size restrictions and species restrictions instituted this year, the number of sharks caught in the Monster Shark tournament is a minute fraction of the number of sharks taken on any given weekend by recreational anglers.

“I want to make sure that the Island appreciates us being there, not just the economic benefit,” said Mr. Kriedel, who estimated the tournament brings in between $3.5 million and $4 million dollars. “I want them to be able to say, “this was done right.”

Mr. Kriedel is scheduled to meet with the committee on February 6. He will speak to Oak Bluffs selectmen at their meeting on February 11.