Chilmark selectmen mussel operation to expand


Hoping to build on a successful first season at the Vineyard’s first offshore blue mussel farm, Chilmark selectmen agreed unanimously Tuesday to allow two well-known fishermen to expand their operation next summer.

Timothy Broderick and Alec Gale, who harvested around 1,900 pounds of blue mussels this summer as part of an experimental aquaculture farm in Vineyard Sound, said their first season was challenging, but a success.

Mr. Broderick said the two men learned valuable lessons and were ready to expand from the two lines —from which mussel seed were suspended — to ten, which will be placed in a five-acre area just north of Cape Higgon. The selectmen permitted just two lines in the experimental first year.

“A limited expansion is what we need to do to make this a little more real. It’s a tough fishery, because it’s based on high volume,” Mr. Broderick said. “We are very enthusiastic about this project, but we feel we have to take it to the next step.”

Selectmen voted 2-0 to approve the additional lines. Jonathan Mayhew, a commercial fisherman and part owner of the dragger/swordfisherman Quista Strider II, abstained from the vote.

The idea for the offshore blue mussel farm dates to 2006, when Richard Langan, the director of the University of New Hampshire Open Ocean Aquaculture project, visited the Island to talk about raising blue mussels using underwater lines.

The discussion gave Mr. Broderick and Mr. Gale the idea. The two men joined Rick Karney, director of the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group, and Scott Lindell of the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory to find funding sources and make the idea a reality.

Last year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration awarded $214,000 to fund an offshore mussel farm off of Point Judith, Rhode Island, and one in Vineyard waters. Officials later received permission to harvest mussels in a 15-acre area in Vineyard Sound and a smaller area near Nomans Land.

The farm uses a long-line suspended between two lines that are attached to a pair of buoys. Anchored at each end, the long-line is suspended from submersible floats about 40 feet below the water. A series of socks filled with seed mussels clinging to plastic ropes, attach to the long-line.

In August, Mr. Broderick and Mr. Gale made their first harvest using Mr. Gale’s 55-foot lobster boat Retriever. They collected about 1,900 pounds of mussels, which they shipped to American Mussel Harvesters in North Kingston, R.I., to be cleaned and processed.

Processors separated all of the smaller and unusable mollusks from the haul, leaving around 800 pounds to be shipped back to the Island and sold at several restaurants and fish markets.

Mr. Gale estimated Tuesday that each of the new 500-foot lines could yield up to 10,000 pounds of mussels, of which they hope to keep 7,000 pounds after processing. Depending on the market price, the two fishermen say they hope to sell next year’s crop for anywhere between $70,000 and $100,000.

“But that is with ideal conditions,” Mr. Gale said.

Selectmen said they were encouraged by the results of the first season, and they offered their support.

“It’s a good opportunity to perhaps develop another fishery. You guys really stepped up to the plate and did a lot of work, and it’s really appreciated,” selectman Frank Fenner said.

Selectmen also heard from four other fishermen who applied for aquaculture grants for blue mussels. Todd Mayhew applied for three lines on five acres or two lines in two acres. Lev Wlodyka and Matt Mayhew submitted applications also but neither specified the number of lines.

Selectman chairman Warren Doty said he was pleased the other fisherman applied for the grants, but warned they had a lot of work to do before selectmen could approve their applications.

Mr. Doty noted that Mr. Gale and Mr. Broderick went through an exhaustive application process before dropping their lines — getting approval from the Army Corps of Engineers, the town conservation commission, the Division of Marine Fisheries and the state Board of Underwater Archeological Resources.

Despite all their work, Mr. Doty said, the two men still need approval from the Army Corps of Engineers to expand to ten lines, a process that he has been told could take as long as 120 days.

“We are trying to see if that can be faster,” he said. “I hate to say this in front of everyone, but it’s almost a joke, that this could be. They’ve been to the site and they have surveyed it. And we are talking about almost doing the same thing over, and they just can’t say yes.”

Mr. Doty encouraged the fishermen not to give up. He said he would guide them through the application process and make phone calls to the various state and federal agencies on their behalf.

“It’s a pain in the neck, and it wouldn’t surprise me if some people drop out. But you pay your dues by going through all this,” he said.

Several of the applicants said they wanted to learn from Mr. Gale and Mr. Broderick as they progress through their second season, and agreed to take a collaborative approach.

“We will all be talking together as it goes along. It’s not like we are all doing separate things. I think we are all working together to make something happen for Menemsha harbor,” said Todd Mayhew.

Selectmen approved a motion stipulating that Mr. Doty will work with the four fisherman to help get the necessary permits, while authorizing them to use a one-acre area on the North Shore and another one-acre area on the South Shore closer to Nomans Land.

In other news, selectmen unanimously rejected an application from Matthew Brackman of Odyssey Transport to run a portion of a Triathlon through town next September. Approximately 800 athletes would particulate in the event, which would pass through Beetlebung Corner on South Road.

Police Chief Brian Cioffi said he liked the concept of the event, but warned it could create problems with traffic and crowd control.

“The idea is we are going to congest up Beetlebung Corner. If it was just an hour we would deal with it. But it’s going to be a few hours spread out over time, and it’s going to have a ripple effect over everything.”

Mr. Fenner noted that there is little incentive for the town to approve the application. So far Mr. Brackman has only agreed to give a small donation to the Boys and Girls Club of Martha’s Vineyard. Mr. Fenner said he did not think the offer warranted holding up traffic and paying for the extra police details.

“It just seems like a potential burden on this community, and I don’t see the necessity of supporting this,” Mr. Fenner said.

Mr. Doty also gave selectmen an update on an application currently before the Seaport Advisory Council seeking money to reimburse the town for a portion of the $1.5 million approved by voters last week to replace the West Dock car-way that was destroyed in the July 12 fire in Menemsha.

Mr. Doty said a group of town officials will go before the Seaport Advisory Council to make their case for financial assistance. The council includes 15 members appointed by the governor, including cabinet secretaries, agency heads, mayors from seaport communities, and Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray.

Although Chilmark is competing with other towns, he said he was optimistic the council might award funding for Menemsha repairs. He said officials will provide photos of the damage to the town dock, and testimony about the fire’s impact on the community.

“I think we have a strong case,” he said.