One of the largest offshore sport fishing events in New England, the Annual Monster Shark tournament, started Thursday at the Oak Bluffs Harbor, and continues through Saturday, July 23.
The tournament draws crowds from far and wide seeking to catch a glimpse of the action. But in addition to large crowds, the event, now in its 25th year, has also attracted its fair share of controversy.
In a passionate conversation with Patch, Monster Shark Tournament president Steven James is now biting back.
James, who has operated the tournament for more than 10 years, said criticism of the tournament is unfounded—the result of overzealous vegans and animal activists.
Contrary to what critics claim, James said, the tournament has no major affect on the marine life.
"The Monster Shark Tournament takes place 20 to 50 miles offshore,” he said. "To think that the 15 to 18 sharks we bring in have some type of impact on the Northern Atlantic is incomprehensible.”
Research fish biologist Lisa Natanson said the species of sharks caught during the tournament are all included in a federal management plan.
"The tournament is registered with the federal government and the fishermen are under both federal and tournament regulations," said Natanson. "If the managers thought it would be a harmful impact on the population, they would not allow them to occur."
Much of the criticism of the tournament originates with the much-hyped weigh station, where sharks are hanged and photographed.
That’s only one aspect of the tournament, said James. “The Monster Shark Tournament can be used to educate, inform and help redefine what a tournament shark is.”
"Don't get confused with that picture representing the Monster Shark Tournament," said James.
Natanson occasionally brings graduate students from Rhode Island to help gather information from the sharks.
"We research shark biology," Natanson said. "We dissect the sharks for a variety of studies including age and growth, reproduction and stomach contents. All the data eventually goes into studies on these species."
"Most of the people you see are people in academia working on sharks," James said. "Everything you can imagine is taken from those sharks for research."
The tournament also serves as an opportunity for fishermen to reunite each year.
"The Monster Shark Tournament is homecoming weekend in Oak Bluffs," James said. "These people come together once a year for this event, whether they catch a fish or don't."
Not to mention, Oak Bluffs businesses witness a huge impact from the annual tournament, oftentimes being their best financial weekend of the summer.
"It provides terrific commerce," Chamber of Commerce executive director Nancy Gardella said. "You can see everybody from the harbor, to the retail stores, to the restaurants, really enjoying good business."
"Events like this do evoke emotional responses from a variety of people. But that aside, the business community really gets a terrific jolt of commerce from this event," said Gardella.
"I've been asked to move the tournament to Newport, Hyannis, to a variety of different places, and I've always said I'm not moving out of Oak Bluffs," James said. "Because I want to help the businesses in Oak Bluffs that have helped me over the years."
James couldn't imagine a better environment for a shark-fishing tournament. He believes participants are also attracted to the fact Martha's Vineyard is a destination place.
"The trip down there is a fascinating one," James said. "Multiple world records have been taken in the tournament and multiple state records."
The winner of the Monster Shark Tournament will receive a Contender fishing boat valued at $50,000.
Weigh stations will be open Friday, July 22 from 3:30-7 p.m. and Saturday, July 23 from 3:30-6:30 p.m. at the Oak Bluffs Harbor.