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Shark Tournament Organizer Bites Back

The 25th Annual Monster Shark Tournament may be controversial, but it's also a boon for business and opportunity for research.

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.

joy July 22, 2011 at 11:13 AM
As a 40 year + OB summer resident, the tournament weekend is my least favorite time to be here. The crowds- many rowdy, many drunk- turn our beautiful town into a very unpleasant place. I know many of the merchants and they do very well during the summer months, and many would much prefer the tournament be held elsewhere.
Chip Coblyn July 22, 2011 at 12:33 PM
The shark is considered to be the ocean's "bad guy" and is therfore deserving of being killed and gutted during a spectacle such as the OB Tournament. The cheering would stop if the same crowd witnessed the same fate befalling an animal they don't fear; a porpoise for example.
Cyrus Skywalker July 22, 2011 at 01:58 PM
whether your a long term visitor or a recent visitor, for those of us who have to 'put up' with the awful, arrogant, selfish , behavior of many of these people who occupy the harbor at oak bluffs who party till the early hours of the morning with their boats lit up by what can only be described as Flood Lights! is yet another reason why many islanders who were born here and live here 365 days a year despise these people the most, the fact is this, most true islanders cannot wait until the end of the season, and yes that includes the local business owners who make so much money from them during the season, and the reason is simple WE GET OUR ISLAND BACK sadly the tourism is a necessary evil and if you have never been here during the winter but only live here in the summer i suggest you come here during winter and see the difference in the real islanders. commerce often pushes the needs and privacy and quality of the life of Islanders aside for the sake of the mighty buck! Visitors be aware, this is not your temporary trash can that you can treat as your own just because you come here every year, stop treating this island as your own personal playground and show respect for the people who live here and for those who welcomed you as if into their very own homes and start to show respect for this beautiful place and the very people who maintain it year round, after all If we came to crap in your back yard I am certain you would have some very strong words and actions to take!!!
Michael West July 22, 2011 at 02:31 PM
The fictional Jaws was one thing - eliminating a killer white that was menacing island people. However, these sharks that are killed, gutted and displayed in the Oak Bluffs harbor were minding their own business 20-50 miles away, not threatening our families. This tournament encourages the worst in us, and brings with it behaviors most of us deplore. It is barbarous - killing 12-15 animals just to kill them and then celebrating their killing with drunkenness. Natanson wraps himself in the flag of science, but science does not require this killing. Of course, our local food and beverage folk will look the other way to feed their families and put a little in the bank. Is it worth it? Is it necessary?
Cyrus Skywalker July 22, 2011 at 02:33 PM
Further more to Nancy Gardella, I suggest you come and spend a few nights trying to sleep near the harbor in Oak Bluffs during this 'festival' If you lived anywhere near it as we do, then i am sure you would have a different feeling about it, your comment regarding the commerce may be a simple one to make but you are truly pushing the needs of those year round residents aside when you comment, and I quote "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 revoke emotional responses from a variety of people. But that aside, the business community really gets a terrific jolt of commerce from this event," It's clear to me that you do not consider the needs of local residents, oh and by the way it's 'evoke' not 'revoke' and yes you Nancy can consider myself as one of those who this event and your comments have 'evoked' an emotional response, since thanks to this event, we won't get any sleep until it's over! I suggest some of the money earned from it should be spent by O.B. parks dept on regularly cleaning up Sunset park instead of mowing the grass and cleaning up the bench areas just because the 'Governor' is on a visit too!
dogged July 22, 2011 at 03:11 PM
Michael, FYI, I think the Natanson that you refer to and the writer refers to in the article is a woman not a man as you state.
dogged July 22, 2011 at 03:15 PM
I am real tolerant of others viewpoints but please don't speak for all TRUE ISLANDERS. Many of us love the summer, the people and the energy the summer gives us. It is nice to get "our island" back but it's also nice to have the summer visitor, their money (their tax dollars for property tax), their donations to our community services, our hospital and other places and things we true islanders use year round. I am not ignorant of the fact that we need them maybe more than they need us.
Michael West July 22, 2011 at 03:27 PM
Thanks, dogged, for pointing that out. I mixed up James and Natanson when I scanned back while writing, and I apologize to both for the error. I should have said James wraps himself in the flag of science.
Vanessa Czarnecki July 22, 2011 at 03:47 PM
Good points, Cyrus, but I'm actually going to update the article. I believe Nancy Gardella did say "evoke," not "revoke." Let's call this one an editing error.
Marcie Berry July 22, 2011 at 04:56 PM
Thank you Michael for the excellent comment! I wholeheartedly agree with what you've said. The article says there is no impact on shark populations since only 12-18 sharks are actually brought in - but what about the many more that are hooked, reeled in and thrown back? Chances are that survival rates for those sharks is not 100%. In addition, these tournaments target the largest, most reproductively viable individuals, effectively killing hundreds more unborn sharks. We HAVE to think of the global picture here: populations of many species of sharks are plummeting. Of course shark tournaments are not the ONLY reason (longline fishing and shark fin soup being two other factors), but many shark tournaments happen up and down the east coast every summer. Add up the numbers and its much more than 12-15 sharks. And the idea that one needs to kill a shark to do research on it is bogus. You can get a lot of useful information through non-lethal research. Saying otherwise is equivalent to the Japanese saying that their whaling is for "research". I have been going to the Vineyard since I was born, my grandparents have lived there since 1980 and my parents now live there year-round. I remember this tournament from when I was a kid, and not in a good way. I truly hope that the town of OB will one day see that this tournament is not welcome and that there are other more humane, more sustainable, and nicer ways for the town to boost their economy in the summertime.
dogged July 22, 2011 at 06:41 PM
And I would have to agree with you.
Boston July 23, 2011 at 12:36 AM
What is the draw to Martha's vineyard anyway. Oh yeah the whole island in an ocean thing. These people are just enjoying what you lucky few that are islanders get to enjoy daily. Fishing for sharks, is that inhumane? If so let's not fish at all. I know I've caught fish that have probably died after I've released them. I'm sure I've dented the oceans ecosystem. Better yet let's all stop eating meat. Who knows if they've been treated properly. Shouldn't we all stop driving cars while we're at it. I mean we could kill thousands of bugs just driving down the road. With all the driving going on out there we must definitely be destroying the mosquito population. Let alone do damage to our environment from all the pollution our cars give off. Give me a break. Pathetic
Michael West July 23, 2011 at 01:38 AM
Dear Pathetic, I mean, Boston, I agree we should stop driving cars, but that's pretty hard to do. I agree we should stop eating meat, but that's easy. I did it a year ago and I'm a lot healthier on a plant-based diet as any doctor will tell you. I wish you would read a book called Four Fish. It is about the fish we eat and the condition of the fishery worldwide. But these sharks are not being caught in order to feed anyone. It's for blood sport, as you know. And some of us are suggesting that this might be hosted somewhere else.
Boston July 23, 2011 at 03:28 AM
I do believe that if the people of OB don't want to have this event then it should be taken elsewhere. BUT, don't take tourist money and then turn around and bash them for being there. Your moneys okay but you're not...hypocritical don't you think. West please don't tell me you're vegan. Cause no respecting Dr. Will say that's healthy, it's actually quite flawed as a diet. I believe that fishing is a great sport no matter the species. Do you raise the same discussed attitude during your stripper tournament? Which is basically the same thing. I will read four fish, thank you.
Marcie Berry July 23, 2011 at 03:56 AM
First of all, I seriously hope you are talking about a striper tournament and not a stripper tournament. I don't know what that would entail exactly, but it certainly wouldn't involve fish. Second, if you know ANYthing at all about the biology of sharks you would know that they are nothing like striped bass or other small fish. Sharks are large, apex predators that are absolutely vital to the health of the ocean ecosystem, they mature at a late age and give birth to live young, producing small numbers of pups (while a striped bass will produce hundreds of thousands of eggs every year). Killing the largest shark one can find is literally killing not only one shark, but their potential babies as well. With many shark populations plummeting worldwide, this certainly would seem to be detrimental. Finally, the annual fishing derby (ie. striper tournament, as i'm assuming that's what you are referring to) does not glorify the death and dismemberment of the animals. It's entirely different and it certainly draws a different kind of crowd. Also, I am not a vegan myself but I know for a FACT that you are completely wrong - many doctors do in fact advocate vegan diets (I know one personally). All you have to do is some simple research - I suggested checking out the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Or just go to Google.
David Whitmon July 23, 2011 at 10:50 AM
I live in OB but have made a point to stay out of town during the Shark Tournament. I've never seen it nor had the desire to do so. If it went else where I wouldn't miss it at all. I sure wouldn't want to imagine what it's like living and trying to sleep near the harbor either.
Holly Nadler July 23, 2011 at 01:14 PM
It's possible this display of bloody shark carcasses is the last hallmark of earlier populations who considered it grand entertainment to watch a public hanging or beheading. We're evolving. Too slowly for most of our tastes, but let's hope there's some kind of divine agenda at work here.
David Whitmon July 23, 2011 at 02:43 PM
That does make a lot of sense Holly. There is a part of me that would like to see the return of pubic stocks. Tomatoes anyone? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stocks
Avid Fisherman July 25, 2011 at 11:55 PM
The sharks caught during this tournament are not thrown away as a blood sport as some think. The sharks instead are enjoyed and eaten by many of the competitors or donated to others who enjoy them. Shark is delicious and nutricious and part of my summer diet. It helps feed my friends and family as well. The actual numbers of sharks caught during this tournament has a very neglible effect on the overall population. If you any of you have ever been out in the ocean fishing you would know that there is very healthy population of sharks in our area. If this tournament did have an effect on the population, wouldn't we see a decline in the numbers of sharks caught each year? For those who are vegan, I don't put down your diet, it's your choice and I respect that. Please respect that I enjoy both meat and fish, both of which I prefer to obtain personally because I know where it comes from!
Marcie Berry July 28, 2011 at 05:51 PM
World-record shark was pregnant "The 1,280-pound shark was pregnant with 55 babies" "The pregnancy raises questions about the ethics of killing sharks for sport" "One more shark death is one too many for Elliott A. Norse, president of the Marine Conservation Biology Institute and a shark researcher for 30 years. "It just doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me, ethically or ecologically," Norse said." http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20060630/NEWS/606300306?p=1&tc=pg
Michael West March 27, 2013 at 11:08 AM
I'd like to look briefly at two assumptions in the tagline - "a boon for business" and "opportunity for research". Has anyone actually documented who benefits from this shark tournament, aside from Mr. James? Whomever owns the Wesley House does pretty well. Most of the other local hotels and rooming houses would be filled anyway. Whomever owns Nancy's I'll be does okay, especially being on the harbor and with that ugly six-foot shark replica hanging outside. Maybe the liquor stores do okay, but my information says most bring their own booze. Do the souvenir shops and clothing stores benefit?T he harbor restaurant-bars do okay. Is that really $2 million? Or is Mr. James exaggerating? As to science, that's a huge issue. No, it is not a boon to science to kill those sharks. Tagging them with PAT tags (and not SPOT tags as tournament aficionado Greg Skomal favors) produces plenty of information about sharks. What is even worse is the tournament encourages providing the shark meat to the senior centers. That meat is contaminated with methyl mercury, as both the EPA and the FDA have warned, and is damaging to the human nervous system, potentially even fatal. Nope, if you do your homework, you will quickly conclude that the one person that benefits from this tournament is Mr. Steve James. If you'd like to learn more about this, while enjoying a "whale" of a good read, try this serial novel posted on WordPress http://xocmv.wordpress.com/
Ellen OBrien April 04, 2013 at 10:24 AM
I really do not see the difference between a shark tournament and a bass and blue fish tournament. Hunting and fishing is part of our way of life here.
Michael West April 04, 2013 at 11:41 AM
You raise the perfect question, Ellen. Yes, fishing is part of the Vineyard way of life. Many is the island family that has survived by eating their fishing catch when fresh, freezing the rest and enjoying it all winter. Bass and bluefish are considered by many to be good eating, too, although I know some tire of bluefish by summer's end. Shark meat is not safe to eat, however. It is too high on the food chain and methyl mercury has contaminated shark meat, as the EPA and FDA have advised. Symptoms include headache, blurred vision, nervous system damage, loss pof coordination, loss of hearing, blindness, even death and that's in adults. If you research stripers, you'll find they are beginning to be similarly contaminated. Moreover, sharks are an overfished group of species, many endangered and protected, that are are killed for their fins, 100 million per year (that's a very large number). When the striped bass was overfished a few years back, they were out of the Derby. Now that they have recovered, they are back in. The proposal before the OB selectmen and the town is not to end the tournament but to change it to catch and release. I do understand the way of life here, and I respect it, but we can do better and give sharks the same respect that we have with stripers.

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