The 22nd annual two-day monster shark tournament in Oak Bluffs ended Saturday with a total of 27 sharks caught and submitted, the largest of which was a 399-pound thresher. The team on the Waterbury caught the shark Friday, beating the other 200 boats in the tournament. Their prize was an $80,000 boat.
The scene at the Oak Bluffs harbor was a little like college spring break, except with middle-aged men. As the end of the competition neared, people crowded into the bars by the water or parties on their boats. A man pushed a shopping cart stacked with alcohol along the pier and a barely-dressed passerby looked on in envy. Another man poured a Coors Light on his head while his friend snapped a picture. A blow-up doll sat perched on a fishing pole.
Competitors pulled their boats up and shared war stories with the crowds, their backs arched as they mimicked their fight with the monstrous sea creatures. They proudly displayed the body parts of their prey. One boat had propped up a shark head with an empty Budweiser can clenched between its teeth. A hook still gouged the side of its gum and flies collected around the crevices while blood trickled on the pavement below its severed neck.
At the weigh station, sharks were pulled in and strung up. Rows of people moved around the barriers for a better look. One woman compared the size of the crowd to a Bruce Springsteen concert, but according to Oak Bluffs police chief Erik G. Blake, the turnout was smaller than in recent years.
During the down times, the crowd was kept entertained with Jaws trivia as well as tournament organizer Steven James’s thoughts on the Humane Society, which had hired a plane to carry a banner proclaiming “Shark Tournaments SHAMEFUL” around the Island on Saturday.
“God forbid you ever stand in line and watch a shark tournament,” he yelled into his microphone.
Mr. James declined to speak with a Gazette reporter; a Gazette photographer who ventured into the weigh station area was ordered to leave and threatened with arrest.
The tournament has become a controversial topic on the Vineyard. The Oak Bluffs selectmen refused to grant the event a liquor license earlier in the summer. The Humane Society took out full page ads in both Island papers last week calling for an end to what is viewed by others as a longstanding tradition with economic benefits for Oak Bluffs businesses.
“This is more of a catch and release tournament than a catch and land tournament,” one supporter said, pointing out that 201 boats went out fishing, but only 27 sharks were killed.
“I think this tournament is run right,” said eight-year competitor Matt Tiano of Bedford. “This is as humane as you can make it.”
Weight limits in the tournament require competitors to release smaller sharks.
But the shark tournament’s focus on the larger sharks is what groups like the humane society take issue with. It is an element that some not protesting the event also oppose.
“We’re in the habit of taking big apex predators out of the ocean,” said Bill Mebane, a marine biologist from Woods Hole. He was in town with friends and had just stopped by to check out the tournament.
“It upsets the whole food chain,” he said.
There’s much to be learned from sharks, Mr. Mebane said. From his point of view, sharks should be used for research.
“These sharks have figured out a way of doing things that has worked for millions and millions of years,” he said. “Killing them for the sake of killing them is stupid.”