The organizer of the annual Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament was one of two men who died Tuesday after their skiff overturned in the Westport River in bitter conditions.
Steven James, 53, of Marshfield, and Robert Beecher, 55, of Cromwell, Conn., died after going on a duck hunt on the river early Tuesday morning, according to a press release from Bristol County district attorney C. Samuel Sutter. A third man, Gregg Angell, 51, of Westport, was hospitalized with hypothermia-type symptoms and is expected to survive, the press release said.
The Coast Guard said it received a report about the overturned boat at about 9 a.m. A Coast Guard helicopter crew located the two deceased hunters about a half mile away from the overturned skiff.
The Coast Guard said that at the time of the rescue, the air temperature was eight degrees and the water temperature 35 degrees with 30-knot winds.
Mr. James was well-known on the Island as the president of the Boston Big Game Fishing Club, which has held the annual Monster Shark Tournament on the Oak Bluffs Harbor every July for the last 27 years.
Mr. James’s death was a topic of discussion following the Oak Bluffs selectmen’s meeting Tuesday.
The tournament, which awarded prizes for catching the largest sharks, drew large crowds to the Oak Bluffs harbor. For a few years, ESPN broadcast the action.
While crowds filled the harbor to watch sharks being weighed in, some protested the event. After townwide discussions last year, Oak Bluffs voted to make the tournament catch and release only in a nonbinding referendum. It wasn’t clear if the tournament would return to Oak Bluffs in 2014, though Mr. James had said he was thinking about moving the tournament to Newport, R.I.
Over the years, Mr. James criticized the tournament’s opponents, noting that most of the sharks caught were released and the tournament, which limited which shark species could be caught, did not have an impact on shark species. In 2012, he told the Gazette that he was an advocate for the health of shark species, and that the tournament meets federal and state guidelines.
“We’ve taken it from a modest tournament to a world class production,” he told the Gazette in 2002. “We’re one of the best resources for shark tagging and overall research for the state.”