The days of shark weighing in Oak Bluffs will come to an end following a vote by the town selectmen this week to grant a harbor permit for a tournament that targets other big game fish.
The new tournament, led by Cape Cod residents Damon Sacco and Christian Giardini, will be held in the town marina July 24 to 26.
Sharks may be caught in the new event but fishermen will be required to set them free. Instead, the tournament will target marlin, tuna, mahi, swordfish and wahoo, which generally weigh less than 100 pounds. Depending on the species and size of the fish, some will be weighed and others released. All marlin will be released.
To some, it’s a marked shift away from the annual Monster Shark Tournament, which was held in town for 27 years. Its organizer, Steven James, died in January in a duck hunting accident. Over the years, his event attracted crowds of visitors to the town, who congregated at the harbor to watch the charismatic fish as they were hung up, weighed and quartered.
This summer smaller fish will be weighed in that spot.
At the selectmen’s meeting Tuesday, Mr. Sacco and Mr. Giardini were recommended by the harbor advisory committee for their prior experience running fishing tournaments. Mr. Sacco owns a sportfishing company, and Mr. Giardini runs the Falmouth Grand Prix in Falmouth.
Harbor advisory committee chairman John Breckenridge said the recommendation was unanimous.
He encouraged the selectmen to consider the endorsement from stakeholders, as well as the limited time frame to plan the event.
“The candor is we don’t want to return to the past,” Mr. Breckenridge said. “We have an opportunity to move forward in a progressive way . . . With time of the essence, we need to get our ship in order, so to speak.”
He said the other applicant, Matthew Kriedel, did not demonstrate a comparable breadth of experience. Mr. Kriedel, a fisherman and businessman, submitted an application for a shark tournament with a catch and release option.
“He does not have the same experience as a tournament promoter; he does not have the web presence,” he said. “His proposal would more than likely bring us down the same road as the past.”
Near the close of the discussion, Mr. Kriedel asked to withdraw his application without prejudice.
A large crowd attended the meeting, with residents speaking out on both sides of the issue.
Much of the discussion dealt with the scene surrounding the tournament, which has in the past featured excessive drunkenness and high numbers of arrests.
Selectman Gail Barmakian said she worried that a weigh-in for any large fish would draw the same crowd.
“With the hanging up, I think you are trying to draw spectators,” she said.
Resident Christine Todd said she would like the tournament to attract a more proactive crowd, and not those “just looking for a blood bath.” She wondered if the event could promote awareness about the declining health of oceans.
Mr. Giardini said he didn’t expect to attract the same type of crowd that had frequented the shark tournament in the past.
“A lot of people are drawn to those tournaments just because of their infatuation with sharks,” he said. “We don’t have that.”
Selectman Michael Santoro said there might be carry-over from previous years.
There was discussion of the economic benefit to the town.
“I look at this as being a win-win,” said Mr. Santoro, who is a businessman. “We were coming into December with no tournament at all, which meant no economic benefit to the town.”
Selectmen appeared entertained by a performance from Warren Gosson, who approached their table and proceeded to take items out of a plastic bag which he said were sold in town during the previous shark tournaments. These included fish oil and sunscreen.
“It’s ridiculous to argue an economic boon,” he said. “Have both tournaments.”
Hotelier Peter Martell said as a result of the shark tournament, the Wesley Hotel had turned over $5,000 to the town in room taxes. “We pay our way . . . but we need these events to make money and pay our bills,” he said.
Resident Sam Low said he was concerned about any event that takes over the town, but was willing to see what happens with this new approach. He asked about the cost of the public safety detail, which he said should not be absorbed by the taxpayers.
Police chief Erik Blake said the cost to the police department, estimated at $13,000, would be paid by tournament participants.
Mark Landers, a fisherman, also spoke in support of the tournament. He said the event has proved educational for the crowds and the scientists who study the species. “It’s a wonderful thing for the town,” he said. Mr. Santoro said correspondence with Gregory Skomal, a fish scientist who has attended the tournament for many years, indicated that he would attend regardless of the catch and release decision.
Four selectmen voted to grant the permit. Gail Barmakian voted against the motion, saying she would like to see mitigation tools in place before making a final decision. The organizers will appear at the harbor advisory committee to discuss mitigation in coming weeks.
The tournament will no longer coincide with the Feast of the Holy Ghost, a traditional festival held each year at the Portuguese-American Club.
The application indicates a 10 per cent pledge of entry fees to a charity. Many endorsed that idea, and asked that it be an Oak Bluffs-specific donation.
Last spring Oak Bluffs voters approved a nonbinding resolution making shark tournaments catch and release.