With the future of the shark tournament in Oak Bluffs next summer unknown following the death of tournament organizer Steven James, the town harbor management advisory committee will consider two separate applications next week for permits to host big game saltwater tournaments.
Mr. James, who organized the annual Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament, died last month in a duck hunting accident.
In the weeks since his death, Islanders have speculated about the future of the tournament, which brought crowds and controversy to the town for 27 years.
The tournament was in a state of flux following last spring’s annual town meeting when voters approved a nonbinding referendum to make the tournament catch and release only. To date the selectmen have taken no action on the matter. The late Mr. James had said he was possibly planning to move the tournament to Newport, R.I.
Now two businessmen with Cape and Vineyard ties have submitted applications to run tournaments on their own.
Matthew Kriedel, who has fished the shark tournament and lives on the Island part time, has submitted a proposal for a tournament that would include a weigh-in and a catch and release option.
Damon Sacco, a Bourne resident who owns a sportfishing company, has applied to host what he’s calling the Oak Bluffs Challenge, a deepwater fishing contest for tuna, marlin and mako shark, primarily catch and release.
Both applications are due to be considered by the advisory committee next Thursday.
Reached Friday, Mr. Sacco said his plans are still tentative, but his contest would be not primarily a shark tournament.
Both applicants have pledged to donate ten per cent of entry fees to charity and include educational components in their proposals.
Mr. Kriedel, who has been critical of Mr. James’s tournament leadership in the past, said he would communicate better with the town and prohibit the display of shark heads, instead giving anglers banners to advertise their catch.
Fishermen would be given the option to register as catch and release anglers if they so choose, he said, but he admitted that the majority of contestants are likely to forgo that option.
“I think there might be a couple, but I don’t think it would be a strong presence,” he said.
If the town restricts the tournament to catch and release, Mr. Kriedel said he will withdraw his proposal. “It would be apparent that a strictly catch and release tournament would . . . result in very little economic benefit to the town of Oak Bluffs,” he wrote in his application.
A tournament in Montauk saw a drastic reduction in the number of boat entries following a shift to a catch and release model, he said.
“It does take a lot of work to go out shark fishing, it is a lot of work and a lot of expense, and if a fisherman happens to be lucky enough to catch thresher or mako, which are great edible species, they’d like to keep it,” he said.
Last year, 12 sharks were weighed in during the tournament weekend.
The harbor management committee meeting is at noon on Feb. 6 at the Oak Bluffs Library. The committee will make a recommendation to the selectmen, who meet Feb. 11.