Head boat creates chop in Menemsha

Selectmen maintain approval of 50-foot charter boat operation in wake of fishermen’s objections.

Martha's Vineyard Fishermen's Trust President John Keene--black t-shirt, front row--converses with future head boat operator Stephen Broderick--front row far left--while Karsten Larsen--front row far right--leans forward to observe — Rich Saltzberg

Chilmark selectmen declined to alter their previous approval of a Menemsha fishing boat operation, designed to take passengers out for a day of fishing, despite reservations voiced by local fisherman.

On May 16, the board of selectmen voted to allow former Steamship Authority chief engineer Stephen Broderick to run a 50-foot passenger head boat from a permanent berth on the commercial wharf beginning in the summer of 2018. A head boat is an informal term for a charter vessel with a passenger capacity of over six people. Head boats are subject to inspection by the Coast Guard.

At a June 6 meeting, officers from the Martha’s Vineyard Fisherman’s Trust spoke out against what they deemed an unorthodox use of the commercial wharf.

“Permitting charter boats to dock within the commercial fishing dock space will change the clear, designated use of the commercial fishing dock area, and will utilize space needed for commercial fishing operations,” Martha’s Vineyard Fisherman’s Trust executive director Shelley Edmundson said, reading from a letter. “We would like to request a more thorough review process of this proposal.”

Via the letter, Ms. Edmundson also said that the trust was in support of Mr. Broderick’s venture insofar as it does not occupy space on the commercial wharf. The letter was signed by the trust’s board of directors, of which selectman chairman Warren Doty is member.

“Chief, I respect you more than anyone in the world, and you know that,” trust board member Wesley Brighton said to Mr. Broderick. “This is about a conflict of dock space … I think we can find a way to compromise and work it out,” he added.

Mr. Broderick said he wished people had expressed their concerns to him earlier. “Not one person has talked to me prior to or after I got the approval. I’m upset about that, but it’s OK,” Mr. Broderick said.

Trust president John Keene apologized to Mr. Broderick for not communicating with him earlier about the trust’s concerns. He said he and other trust members tried to reach out to him prior to the selectmen’s meeting, but were unable to reach him. Mr. Keene pointed out that the trust recently closed a $1 million scallop deal, and that would translate into more vessels using the wharf. He asked the selectmen if a preapproved alternative berth for Mr. Broderick’s boat could be devised should harbor traffic increase.

“I’m willing to move anywhere,” Mr Broderick said. “I don’t want to get in the way of you and your operation. I don’t want to hurt anybody.”

The location should be left up to the harbormaster, selectman Jim Malkin said: “I don’t think it’s up to the selectmen to say where a boat goes in the harbor.”

Several of those in attendance expressed concern that commercial fishing vessels would not be able to raft, or tie up alongside, Mr. Broderick’s head boat, impinging on fishermen’s ability to dock and offload catches when space against the wharf is full.

Longtime fisherman Karsten Larson said the wharf was built for commercial fishermen. “The Army Corps of Engineers built that dock after the Hurricane of ’38, and it was designated commercial fishing only,” he said.

He said he was in favor of Mr. Broderick operating a head boat, but that it should be berthed along the channel off the West Dock. He also cited the head boat Que’tal, suggesting precedence was established in the prohibition of head boats and charter craft on the commercial wharf because Chilmark officials ejected the Que’tal from a berth on the wharf years ago.
“The Army Corps of Engineers stood behind the selectmen and the harbormaster to pull the Que’tal out there that time,” he said.

Selectman Malkin read a statement into the record in which he noted that Menemsha had a legacy of head boats dating from the mid 20th century. He also said Mr. Broderick’s boat would not hamper existing commercial fishing operations in Menemsha, which he said have diminished over the years. To facilitate the head boat’s inclusion at the wharf, Mr. Malkin suggested three parameters for Mr. Broderick’s operation:

  • That his boat patrons park at the dump parking lot.
  • That Mr. Broderick’s vessel dock at the direction of the harbormaster.
  • That the harbormaster be empowered to relocate the vessel’s berth if commercial activity increases in Menemsha.

“I like the idea of a head boat. I think it’s good for the harbor. I think it keeps the harbor moving in the direction of being commercial,” harbormaster Dennis Jason said. He noted that many families may not be able to bankroll excursions with the harbor’s current fishing charters. He said he is often asked about family-oriented fishing options out of Menemsha.

Captain Paul MacDonald asked why Mr. Broderick was “approved rapidly.” He claimed the selectmen stalled his own permission to run a similar charter operation several years ago.

“I was in front of the selectmen two times five years ago to do sunset lobster cruises,” he said. “I was pretty much shut down … How come you’re givin’ these guys a head boat?”

Selectmen Bill Rossi countered that there was nothing ambiguous about how the selectmen handled the matter. “I believe we said no,” he said. “You were doing a dinner cruise. That’s not fishing.”

In summation of what was at issue, Mr. Doty called for sharing the harbor. “If we could figure out a way to accommodate another fishing business, which is a head boat, and at the same time allow the space to be used by commercial fishermen to raft up and move as they want to,” he said, “this is what we’re trying to work out.”

Before deliberations closed on the matter, Mr. Rossi said that since Mr. Broderick’s head boat operation isn’t slated to begin until next summer, there will be plenty of time to work out the particulars.