To the Editor:
Public easement for fishing from private beaches on Martha’s Vineyard? Not if there is the threat of guard dogs.
My family has been on the Island since the 1950s. We have purchased several properties and built modest homes, raised children here, and have seen grandparents and parents buried on the Island. We pay taxes, and are active members of our communities. Our grandparents and children have fished off boats, jetties, and shorelines for decades. I personally have visited every conservation property on the Island, and respect our natural biodiversity.
But last week, I felt threatened in my own community. I decided to try fishing off the shoreline just past Bend-in-the-Road Beach south of State Beach. With my pole in hand, I planned to walk the intertidal zone and travel as far as I could. Massachusetts General Law Chapter 91 Waterways, Section 1, states that “private tidelands” are “tidelands held by a private party subject to an easement of the public for the purposes of navigation and free fishing and fowling and of passing freely over and through the water.” Or in other words, I (or others) can legally walk on private land for the purpose of fishing.
I confidently walked the shoreline until I came to a sign that stated, “Video Surveillance, Guard Dogs on Duty.” Legally I can walk here, but a dog might attack me? What kind of land owner would post this? I also noticed that the Town of Edgartown has swimming buoys protecting the swimming area for these private landowners. So public funds have been expended to protect lands the public cannot use unless they want to be mauled by guard dogs?
I know in California, tidal zones are owned by the people. Pedestrian access is allowed on all shorelines. This makes sense. How can a private landowner control and own sand that is constantly shifting and changing? How can we trust private landowners to take care of public tidal lands? I have seen private landowners in Lobsterville clear the sand dune vegetation for hammocks and chairs, causing beach erosion for future generations. I also have seen what the public can do to public land, but perhaps it is time to try to trust the people to care for our tidal lands by allowing them access without the fear of guard dogs.