Residents of ‘Jaws’ home seek an end to shark tournament
On Martha’s Vineyard, the Massachusetts island where the aquatic villain in the 1975 film Jaws menaced swimmers, some residents now say sharks need protection from humans.
Voters in the town of Oak Bluffs, Mass., passed a measure calling for the annual Monster Shark Tournament held this weekend to be the last contest where the fish can be killed and strung up by their tails, a tradition that draws thousands to the island. Though nonbinding, the measure is pitting residents against merchants and big-game fishermen who travel from as far as Texas to chase some of the ocean’s largest predators.
“It has turned into a spectacle and a frat-party scene,” said Gail Barmakian, one of five selectmen representing Oak Bluffs, which sits on a harbor lined with gingerbread-style homes and is scented by clams frying at nearby restaurants.
The town becomes unrecognizable during the four-day tournament, she said, with drunks and broken beer bottles.
The island’s shift in attitude represents a victory, even if symbolic, said Wendy Benchley, the widow of Jaws author Peter Benchley.
“We love our monsters,” said Benchley, president of the board of the New York-based Shark Savers conservation group. “But the culture has changed. To have a kill tournament at this time in the life of the ocean just sends the message to the public and the youth that it is okay to kill our apex predators that are in trouble around the world.”
Steve James, owner of the Boston Big Game Fishing Club, which runs the tournament, said conservationists’ concerns are misguided. The sharks caught aren’t endangered, and only 16 were taken last year, he said.
“They try to make it seem like there is a dead shark hanging on every pylon in Oak Bluffs,” James said.
Should the town enforce the catch-and-release measure next year, he threatened to tell contestants to drop their captured sharks near the shoreline.
“How exciting would it be to have hundreds of sharks in Oak Bluffs Harbor?” he laughed.