Oak Bluffs Challenge is the new tournament in town

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

Following the recommendation of the Oak Bluffs harbor management committee, the Oak Bluffs selectmen voted 4-1 Tuesday to give a special permit to the organizers of the “Oak Bluffs Challenge,” described as a multi-species fishing tournament, to be held July 24 to July 26.

Selectmen took no action on a competing request from Matthew Kriedel of Edgartown and Newington, Connecticut. Mr. Kriedel had applied for a special permit to hold a shark tournament the weekend of July 17 to July 20. Following remarks from John Breckenridge, chairman of the harbor management advisory committee, Mr. Kriedel withdrew his application “without prejudice.”

Both organizers stepped into the void left by the untimely death of Steven James in a duck hunting accident last month. For the past 27 years, Mr. James ran the Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament, defending and modifying it over the years in the face of growing opposition from Islanders and others.

Mr. Breckenridge reiterated the committee’s endorsement of the Oak Bluffs Challenge and Mr. Sacco in no uncertain terms. “We recommended Mr. Sacco because he has the experience and the web presence to make this a successful tournament that can also benefit this town,” said Mr. Breckenridge. “Mr. Kriedel’s proposal would likely bring us down the same road as the past [shark tournament]. We were particularly disappointed that Mr. Kriedel referred to shark tournament opponents as ‘tree huggers.’”

Damon Sacco of Bourne, owner and operator of Castafari Sport Fishing and organizer of the Hyannis Tuna Fest, is the organizer of the Oak Bluffs Challenge. He will be assisted by Christian Giardani of Falmouth, one of the organizers of the Falmouth Grand Prix fishing tournament. Ted Rosbeck of Edgartown, who presented the application to the harbor committee last week, said he will act as an informal advisor to the Oak Bluffs Challenge.

Since Mr. Sacco was away on a previously planned vacation, Mr. Giardani spoke to selectmen on his behalf. He said the tournament will be sanctioned by the International Game Fishing Association (IGFA) and will operate on a points system.  “Sharks are off the menu,” said Mr. Giardini. “Marlin will be catch and release, and swordfish will go by federal guidelines.”

The species that will accrue points are bigeye tuna, yellowfin tuna, swordfish, wahoo, mahi-mahi, and marlin. Sharks will have no point value.

Although selectman Gail Barmakian reiterated her support for a catch-and-release tournament, Mr. Giardini said there would still be a weigh-in at the harbor.

“It’s very difficult to make a profit on a tournament without weigh-ins,” he said. “It can enable cheating. With a weigh-in, it’s hard for anyone to dispute.”

Ms. Barmakian, who voted against the tournament because, she said, it was not catch and release, also raised concerns about creating a spectacle at the harbor, especially by hanging the fish after the weigh-in. “We’re not in the business of promoting irresponsibility. These are professional crews we’re bringing in,” said Mr. Giardani. “This is more of a celebration of the fish. It’s all fish you can get in the market, that are taken on a daily basis anyway. You don’t want them hanging on display for long.”

“We have a fishing derby that displays bass and bluefish. I don’t want to get into limiting all sportfishing,” said selectman Michael Santoro. “I look at this as a win-win. Coming into December with no tourney, we now have the economic value of a tournament, and we have satisfied the shark amendment. I see it as being progressive.”

Mr. Giardini said there would be seminars and education booths at the harbor to engage the general public while the boats are on the water.  He also said the contest will donate 10 percent of entry fees to Island charities, which will be determined with input from the harbor committee.

Mr. Giardini estimated a modest turnout, 15 to 25 boats, for the first year of the Oak Bluffs Challenge. Mr. Breckenridge said that number might be considerably higher.

“I think he’s being bashful, there’s excitement in the field,” said Mr. Breckenridge. “There’s recognition that we’re an incredible destination, with a new beginning and an experienced promoter. I think we’ll have a sizable number of participants.”