With the issue coming before town meeting members in early April, Oak Bluffs selectmen Tuesday once again revisited the controversial Monster Shark Tournament, ultimately agreeing to an application to host the tournament pending a meeting with the event organizer.
The annual Boston Big Game Fishing Club Monster Shark tournament features cash prizes for those who catch the largest sharks, which are brought back to the harbor to be weighed in. In the past, conservation and animal rights groups have protested the event, though shark biologist Gregory Skomal told the selectmen last year that the tournament is largely catch and release and has a minimal impact on shark species.
Additional concerns have been raised recently about the crowds that come to town to witness the event, with the harbor filled with boats and lined with spectators. Last summer, Oak Bluffs police made 21 arrests over the shark tournament weekend, and police chief Erik Blake said the department was overwhelmed.
The harbor advisory committee developed a harbor use permit application for events this year, which was up for discussion Tuesday. Boston Big Game president Steven James, who filled out the application, was not at the meeting.
“I am a little disappointed that the applicant is not here, and I am personally inclined to postpone [the discussion] until the applicant is here,” selectman chair Kathy Burton said. “Because I find it very frustrating that the board might have a few questions and the applicant is not here to answer them.”
Harbor advisory committee chair John Breckenridge outlined some of the committee’s concerns, noting that other events in town have to fill out an application. While the group tries to avoid being for or against the tournament, he said, the consensus is that “the carrying capacity of the harbor has been stretched,” he said. This year, 65 boat slips are reserved for the tournament, he said, and participants are being charged an extra fee.
Selectman Gail Barmakian questioned whether the weigh-station where sharks are brought back to the harbor, hung up and weighed is on town property, a question that also surfaced last year.
“It’s turned into a spectacle as opposed to an event,” Ms. Barmakian added, adding that the spectators are the main problem.
In a memo to Chief Blake, Oak Bluffs Sgt. Michael Marchand said officers last year felt “overwhelmed and most importantly unsafe,” and he suggested adding overtime shifts for the police department during the tournament weekend. The total cost for police officer overtime, police secretarial overtime and Dukes County sheriff’s department overtime would come to $11,874, he said.
At the meeting, selectman Michael Santoro noted that hotels and boat slips are already being booked. If the tournament is canceled, the town could have “a major economic catastrophe on our hands,” he said. This year’s 27th annual shark tournament is scheduled for July 18 through July 20.
The selectmen approved the application pending a meeting with Mr. James in the next two weeks.
Selectmen stressed that their decision to approve the application has nothing to do with how the town votes about the tournament at town meeting. A non-binding resolution was submitted this year by petition that would make all shark fishing tournaments in Oak Bluffs catch and release only. “I certainly wouldn’t turn my head to any vote,” selectman chair Kathy Burton said.
“We do not want to have a fiasco this summer like we had last summer,” Ms. Burton said.
In other business, selectmen announced that police chief Gilbert (Peter) Forend does not wish to be reappointed to his position and would be leaving his post effective July 1. Mr. Whritenour said the town will post the job vacancy and accept applications.
Ms. Barmakian said she had concerns about the job qualifications and requirements, noting that while a bachelor’s degree would be recommended but not required, most similar jobs do not mention a degree. She also said some of the job duties seemed to be too onerous for a $12,000 a year job, and wanted to add that the applicants should live in town.