There is endless fascination about sharks, and the Monster Shark Tournament staged annually every July by the Boston Big Game Fishing Club has long been an attraction for people of all stripes — shark lovers, scientists, protesters and the just plain curious. For two days at the height of summer, Oak Bluffs is transformed as huge crowds pour in to witness the spectacle.
Tourism is the lifeblood of the town, and it has become an article of faith that anything that brings in boatloads of visitors is worth preserving, especially in a fragile economy.
And shark fishing, distasteful as it is to many, is not illegal.
But this year the often-rowdy shark tournament began to fray around the edges a bit more. A sharp increase in police activity over the tournament weekend painted a picture of wild public drinking and street brawls, resulting in one hundred and forty reported incidents and twenty-one arrests. One peaceful protester was the brunt of taunting and had a beer bottle thrown at him as he floated in a kayak in the Oak Bluffs harbor holding a sign objecting to the event.
Oak Bluffs selectmen, considering a report on a recent problem-solving session held to discuss the tournament, agreed that even the business community was split on the value of the event.
So now comes the question, has the Monster Shark Tournament finally worn out its welcome in Oak Bluffs? Do the costs to the town in tax dollars and reputation of controlling a raucous element outweigh the benefits to local businesses of the boost in visitors? Do Oak Bluffs citizens, who as recently as five years ago voted to endorse the tournament, still think it’s a good idea?
Many would like to know the answers to those questions. It was encouraging to learn that a problem solving session including police, harbor officials and selectmen had been held to address the excesses of last summer’s tournament, but it would have been better if the guest list had included a broader cross section of citizens and business owners.
In their discussion this week, the selectmen rejected a petition that would have put on the town ballot the question of whether the town should allow shark tournaments that are catch and release only. Petitioners will now need to obtain signatures from ten per cent of the voters if they want to pursue that avenue.
We hope they do. The monster shark tournament is ripe for reconsideration.