Leaders of the Martha’s Vineyard Fishermen’s Preservation Trust (MVFPT) invited Island fishermen to a public meeting Tuesday night as part of a renewed effort to clear the air about the purpose of the organization and to listen to all voices while moving forward with plans to build an organization that can support the Vineyard fishing industry.
The effort to cast a wide net and attract fishermen from across the Island fell short Tuesday evening at the Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury. Only a small group of mostly up-Island fisherman attended what newly elected president John Keene of Chilmark described as a “clear the air” session. While disappointed in the turnout of just 11 people with ties to the fishing industry, Mr. Keene said he was encouraged that the Trust is moving in the right direction, after a period of inactivity.
Mr. Keene said there is no certainty the organization will succeed. “But I feel there’s a chance,” he said. “But it would have to be with everyone supporting it.”
Hard feelings are anchored in a lawsuit that the Dukes County Fishermen’s Association, the precursor to the MVFPT, filed to stop Cape Wind’s project on Horseshoe Shoals, prime fishing grounds for Island fishermen. In 2012, that group agreed to settle the lawsuit, for an amount later revealed to by $1.25 million, and promised to support the project, while working with Cape Wind to resolve issues that affect fishing.
Hammered out in secret, the agreement was roundly criticized by many local fishermen. In 2010, the MVFPT, an entirely separate legal entity, was formed to administer the proceeds from that settlement.
The group has not received any funds. The agreement called for a payment of $250,000 once Cape Wind completes its financing, and a $1 million payment when construction is complete, according to several sources familiar with the agreement.
Mr. Keene made the lawsuit settlement the first item for discussion at Tuesday’s informal meeting.
“How could they sign off on that without the people who were involved even knowing about it,” asked Steve Larsen, a lobster fisherman from Menemsha. “If we don’t stick together, why be in a group? You may wonder why a lot more people aren’t here. They probably don’t trust us.”
Warren Doty, a Chilmark selectman and the founding president of the two fishermen’s organizations, said the settlement was a mistake.
“I take responsibility for not communicating enough of what happened with Cape Wind,” he said. “It was kind of a swirling thing happening. We had lawyers calling every day asking us if we were going to send more money. They suggested to try to see if they could get a settlement. That was a mistake.”
Fishermen at the meeting said that they hope Cape Wind does not get built, that they do not expect to see any of the settlement money, and that they are not making any future plans based on the settlement.
After discussing the fallout from the Cape Wind settlement, Mr. Keene steered the discussion to the challenges facing local fishermen and how the Fishermen’s Preservation Trust might help.
Several fishermen expressed concerns about a new Ocean Management Plan released recently by state officials. It identified several areas near Martha’s Vineyard which might be used as pilot projects to mine sand for beach renourishment.
“Smaller boat fishing, more precisely Island smaller boat fishing, is under fire not just from sand mining projects, not just from losing access and quotas,” said MVFPT board member Wesley Brighton, a conch fisherman from Chilmark. “The entire front, walls are closing in. The reason I’m putting my time into this is because we want to protect our Island small boat fishery.”
The Trust is also exploring ways to facilitate financing for upgrading fishing equipment, and to secure fishing permits, among other issues.
“There are situations that I see an opportunity to get a permit, but financing just isn’t available,” Mr. Brighton said. “We don’t want to become a bank, but if we partner with a bank to help secure the loan, that’s more of a public relationship. Providing the opportunity is most important part.”
The group also discussed ways to set qualifications for financial help from MVFPT, including the possibility of setting up a separate panel to evaluate applications, in order to avoid any appearance of favoritism.
After a long period of dormancy, members of the Fishermen’s Preservation Trust began meeting regularly last spring. Board members said they have begun to correct some organizational issues, including the loss of their tax-exempt status.
As Mr. Doty steps away from a lead role in the group, the board is expanding to include a more diverse group. A new addition is David White, artistic and executive director of The Yard, a contemporary dance and performance center. Mr. Keene said that Mr. White will bring experience in fundraising and nonprofit administration to the group.
The board also includes fisherman Matthew Mayhew of Chilmark, Katherine Carroll of Chilmark, and Shelley Edmundson of Vineyard Haven, a fisheries scientist.
Mr. Keene asked Tuesday’s attendees to generate some momentum for a follow-up meeting, planned for Tuesday, December 16, at 5 pm. The location is yet to be determined.
“If you guys think it’s worthwhile coming, it would be great to spread the word,” Mr. Keene said. “If everyone could be ambassadors to spread the word, that it’s kind of a new energy, we’ll give it our best shot.”
Mr. Keene said he hopes to invite members of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance to the next meeting. The Cape group has advocated successfully on fisheries issues and is advising the MVFPT.
The original version of this online article was updated to reflect that Katherine Carroll also serves on the board of the Fishermen’s Preservation Trust.