Criticism of the annual Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament resurfaced at the town selectmen’s meeting this week, with a local group asking the town to reconsider the role it plays in the popular event, citing ethical and environmental concerns with the way sharks are killed and displayed in the town harbor.
Representatives from Vineyarders Against Shark Tournaments addressed the selectmen Tuesday with a proposal to turn the harbor into a shark-free marina, an initiative backed by the Humane Society of the United States, which advocates a zero-take policy when it comes to shark fishing.
Speaking to the selectmen, group representative Sally Apy criticized what she called the “bloodlust” in the tournament and said the initiative is “an opportunity for Oak Bluffs to become cutting edge, savvy and aware.”
The movement discourages fishermen from bringing dead sharks back to the docks, but Ms. Apy said marinas designated as shark friendly could still allow a catch and release tournament policy.
Curently fishermen are prohibited from displaying cut-off shark heads or shark tails on town property, harbor master Todd Alexander said. While the weigh station where the sharks are brought in is private property, he said boats use town-owned slips during the tournament, which is held every year on a weekend in July.
Ms. Apy spoke of the “wasting” of dead sharks that are hung on docks during the tournament, and the environmental impact on the ocean, where sharks are at the top of the food chain. Steve Maxner, another member of the group, said 20 per cent of fish caught and released die from stress associated with the struggle and lodged hooks.
In response, the selectmen said they were concerned about the financial impact tournament changes would have on the town, where the tournament weekend brings a substantial amount of money.
According to Mr. Alexander, most summer weekends are busy, with marina reservations sold out on a normal weekend. But the shark tournament brings in Thursday business, he told the selectmen, as well as more spectator boats.
In 2007 Oak Bluffs residents voted to keep the tournament in town, selectman Greg Coogan noted. He also said the Humane Society, which spent time protesting the tournament in Oak Bluffs, is “not an important group to me.”
Selectman Walter Vail said it was important to protect the town’s business interests. “Whatever we do, I really don’t want to jeopardize the business we take in that weekend,” he said. “Our business is to do what’s right for this town.”
The selectmen said they would ask tournament organizer Steven James of the Boston Big Game Fishing Club and senior state shark biologist Greg Skomal, who has been a proponent of the tournament, to visit a future meeting to explain some of the biological information and present the other side of the story.
“We do have a lot of different interests. Whatever we do, there should be input from other sides, said selectman Gail Barmakian.
In other business, the selectmen unanimously approved raising the rates for a nonresident family shellfish license from $300 to $400. The change is effective Jan. 1, 2012; no fees will be waived.
They also approved the annual request from the owners of the Slice of Life restaurant to close for maintenance from Jan. 22 to Feb. 9, and Fred Mascolo’s request to open another branch of his store, Trader Fred’s, on Circuit avenue. “Any business from Edgartown who wants to come into Oak Bluffs I think we should welcome with open arms,” said selectman Michael Santoro.
Interim town administrator manager Bob Whritenour announced that Jennifer Morgan of Edgartown, the former assistant animal control officer for Oak Bluffs, was appointed the town animal inspector.
The position was previously vacant, Mr. Whritenour said, and the state Department of Agriculture informed the town that communities without an inspector are subject to fines. The inspector implements state rabies laws and quarantines dogs that have bitten people, he said, and in some recent dog biting cases the town has not had someone to serve this function.
The town is also discussing privatizing the harbor launch transport service, Mr. Whritenour said, which could save the town money. A request for proposals will be advertised by the end of the year.
Mr. Whritenour also announced that local estimated receipt collections for the first third of the year are up $145,957 from the same period last year, which will help the effort to erase a large deficit. The Department of Revenue certified the town’s free cash at minus $888,046. “Every dollar that we generate will help to bring down that amount,” Mr. Whritenour said.