The organizer of the Monster Shark Tournament this week announced that he had withdrawn his application to use Washington Park as the headquarters for the three-day event and instead had set his sights on securing a private venue for the tournament’s opening and closing ceremonies.
Steven James, president of the Boston Big Game Fishing Club, told the Gazette this week he had withdrawn his application to put up a tent with capacity for 900 on Washington Park that would be used for the tournament’s Captain’s Banquet and closing ceremonies.
Mr. James said he was now negotiating with three privately owned facilities — two in Oak Bluffs and one in Vineyard Haven — to provide space for tournament headquarters. By moving to a private property, he said, he would no longer need to obtain the town’s permission to serve beer and wine.
The announcement came less than a week after Oak Bluffs selectmen voted 3-2 to enact a new policy to prohibit one-day liquor licenses for all future shark tournaments, effectively ending the town’s long relationship with the tournament. Although the event will likely remain in Oak Bluffs, the town will no longer provide space for the tournament which is scheduled to run this year from July 17 through July 19.
The tournament is the largest offshore sport fishing event in New England and one of the largest shark tournaments in the country. Several years ago, after ESPN began to broadcast the event, the Humane Society of the United States launched an aggressive campaign to oppose the shark tournament, placing graphic advertisements in Island newspapers and on its Web site while encouraging protesters to personally contact town officials to air their concerns.
Following last week’s vote, Mr. James accused selectmen of discriminating against sport fishermen and threatened legal action against the town. This week, however, he softened his position and said it was unlikely he would pursue legal action. He did, however, again admonish selectmen for making a decision he said that could hurt the business community and the town in general.
“After evaluating the situation further I don’t think a lawsuit will be necessary. But as far as I’m concerned the vote last week was a form of extortion . . . now they’ll have to find some other way to get their money,” he said.
Mr. James said he wants to keep the tournament in Oak Bluffs.
“My number one priority is to continue to support the businesses in town. In this year when fuel costs are going through the roof and many people may be rethinking their vacation plans, the effect of losing the shark tournament would be devastating to many businesses. I don’t know if selectmen considered that,” he said.
John Grandy, senior vice president of wildlife for the Humane Society of the United States, had a different take on the selectmen’s vote. “It sends a message that animal cruelty is not welcome in Oak Bluffs,” he said. “Shark tournaments are driven by profit, and removing the money generated by liquor sales is the first step to ending this violent spectacle.”