Editors, Vineyard Gazette:

In denying the 10-person petition to place on the April ballot a resolution that the Monster Shark Tournament become a completely catch-and-release event, the Oak Bluffs selectmen have actually done the opponents of the event a favor. Now they must gather signatures of at least 10 per cent of the Oak Bluffs registered voters, and therein lies an opportunity.

Chairman Kathy Burton said, “Don’t worry. All you have to do is place your petition at a few key places in town and you’ll get plenty of signatures.” She may be right, but I hope that does not become the process.

The voters of Oak Bluffs deserve and want a thoughtful discussion of the many issues surrounding the Monster Shark Tournament. They want answers to the tough questions.

For instance, how do you assess the overall impact of becoming known as a mecca for rowdies? Certainly when all those shark hunters and tourists gather to watch the weigh-in spectacle, the raising and the gutting of the carcasses, they are also going to spend money — on food, drink, places to sleep, souvenirs, T-shirts — whatever. There will be a short-term gush of cash — no question about it. But does that necessarily mean a long-term economic boon if the nature of the event and the behavior of the crowd damages the town’s overall reputation.

Have the selectmen really done their job when they take the word of one or two scientists that no ecological harm comes from killing and glamorizing the killing of sharks?

And what does the event say to children? Is this the way to respect the interdependent web of life? Is this how you act on vacation? Is this why we are taught to be proud of Oak Bluffs?

The numbers of signatures gathered is only one measure of a petition drive’s success. Has the effort itself increased understanding? Has it led to thoughtful discussion in our homes, at the hospital, in our schools, our churches, our neighborhoods, our businesses, clubs, town departments and committees?

I agree with the selectmen that allowing initiatives on the ballot with a mere 10 signatures is a dangerous practice. They have not cut off healthy debate. Now the opponents of the shark tournament need to decide how to let the voters send a credible message.

Peter Palches, Oak Bluffs