The disagreement started to get ugly in 2007 when James, who claims he had previously donated shark steaks not used for research to a food bank, says the HSUS intervened, asserting that the tournament was not a licensed filet station. As a result, anglers now keep all of the meat.
The HSUS threw up another roadblock in May 2008. In what the Martha’s Vineyard Times reported as an attempt to move the tournament from the town of Oak Bluffs, selectmen voted to withhold the event’s liquor permit from public lands (effectively limiting all alcohol consumption to local bars and restaurants). According to the Times, this went against the spirit of an earlier nonbinding ballot question, which had gone in favor of the town continuing to host shark tournaments, although it did reflect a strong split in public opinion with a vote of 458 to 386.
In September of 2008, the HSUS took a different tack, filing a complaint with the Massachusetts attorney general, alleging that the event’s calcuttas constituted illegal gambling activities. It followed up the complaint by posting a hidden-camera video on its Web site showing the aforementioned scene of HSUS photographer Nigel Barker (a former judge on the TV show America’s Next Top Model) being escorted away by police for trying to take photos of the event. But it was another video posted to the site depicting an Oaks Bluffs police officer that raised the ire of some in the community. While showing images of the calcutta meeting, the video’s voice-over chastened, “the betting took place under the close watch of a local police officer, [and] a percentage of [the] cash will be paid out to Oak Bluffs’ police and Harbor Patrol.” The Times reported that payments were intended to defer additional costs imposed by the tournament.
Maybe a record breaker?
Town selectman Ron DiOrio, who voted against granting the liquor permit and was previously opposed to the shark tournament in general, called the video “outrageous” and was able to get the council to vote unanimously to pursue the possibility of legal action against HSUS. “They shot themselves in the foot with that one,” James observed. Grandy counters, “We’re backing off but we’re not changing our stance.” He says he’s focusing his efforts on creating sharkfishing- free marinas in consort with some tackle manufacturers, and that the HSUS will continue its protests.
The 2009 turnout was down over the 202 boats that participated in 2008, but James believes it was still a great success. “To win this tournament is a lifetime accomplishment,” he says, adding, “Recreational fishermen will continue to do their part in actively helping conservation.”
The Monster Shark
So what started all the controversy? This photo, taken at the 2005 Monster Shark Tournament of a record-breaking 1,191-pound tiger shark (a species no longer fished for in the tournament) became the top e-mailed photo during one week in July of that year, according to Stephen James, who runs the event. Dr. John Grandy of the HSUS saw the photograph, was outraged by the treatment of the animal, and the protests began.
This article originally appeared in the October 2009 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.