The 27th Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament is set for this weekend, and will likely be the last tournament of its size to be held in town following years of debate and controversy.
Sponsored by the Boston Big Game Fishing Club, the tournament begins Friday and continues Saturday. The tournament’s home base is the Oak Bluffs marina.
In a nonbinding referendum brought by petition to Oak Bluffs voters last April, the town voted in favor of a making it a catch and release tournament.
The town selectmen are waiting to assess this year’s activity before acting on the referendum.
“What we are going to do is see how this tournament goes, in terms of how the town is able to deal with it,” said Walter Vail, chairman of the board. “Afterward, we will probably do a review of how the crowds were handled and how the crowds behave.”
Last year, the spectacle extended far beyond the weigh station scene, seeping into the streets of the downtown area and into the night. The police were “overwhelmed by the amount of activity” last year, said Oak Bluffs police Lieut. Timothy Williamson. Though they had assigned extra police officers to the weigh station at the harbor, they were not prepared for the unprecedented nighttime and early morning mayhem, which included instances of public drinking, drunkenness, urination, fights and other disorderly conduct. There were 21 arrests, three people placed in protective custody and unexpected numbers of police escorts. In total, there were 140 incidents, including multiple late night fights, one involving eight to 12 men fighting in the middle of Kennebec avenue.
This year, Lieutenant Williamson said the police are more prepared with extra officers and the use of the sheriff’s department transport vehicle. “We have beefed up quite a bit from last year’s numbers,” he said. “We want to be ready in [case] we have a big event like last year’s.”
The cost of additional law enforcement will be funded in part by the tournament participants themselves, who are required to pay a service fee to the Oak Bluffs harbor of $75 a day per boat, on top of the $300 weekend docking fee. The money will pay for an extra police detail, ambulance services and garbage cleanup. Organizer and club president Steven James also pays for his own police detail, ambulance service and patrol boat for the harbor. As a result of the additional cost for police presence, members of the Boston Big Game Fishing Club are shifting their sights to private harbors in Newport, R.I., for future tournaments. “If you really consider all of the issues, it all comes back to one central issue: we are trying to run an event out of a municipal harbor,” Mr. James said.
The service fee is the primary reason the tournament will garner less interest next year, he said, claiming that it “had nothing to do with” the catch and release referendum.
“Now that the service fee is in place, it is actually cheaper to fish in Newport,” said Mr. James. There, without public oversight, the tournament can conduct their business in any way they choose. The tournament only brought in 12 sharks last year, which he said is hardly a threat to the species’ existence.
Mr. James said he is committed to hosting a tournament in Oak Bluffs next year, but that it will most likely be a smaller event. “If they don’t want it to be a big event, I will run an event down here one style or the other,” he said.
In their decision, selectmen will have to weigh the concerns of town voters with the revenue that the tournament brings in. The tournament brings a tax revenue of $1 million to $2 million, Mr. Vail estimated. “Every dollar is important to Oak Bluffs,” he said.
Following last year’s events, selectmen and police met to discuss preventative measures. Mr. Vail said he thinks the extra police detail will make the difference this year. “I am quite certain that the boys will do a good job,” he said. “I know they will.”
All parties agree that the warm weather will lend itself to a large turnout of spectators. “I was hoping it wouldn’t be such nice weather,” Mr. Vail said.
Mr. James acknowledged that the tournament “brings in a tremendous numbers of spectators,” but said the responsibility for keeping the peace does not belong exclusively to the tournament participants.
“If you want my two cents, it’s not fair at all,” he said. He thinks the bars should pay instead for extra law enforcement. “This is about keeping the bars open for the four days. They seem to be long on wind and short on money,” he said.