Shellfishing prospects varied, but hopeful, in Island towns
Shellfishing isn't what it used to be on Martha's Vineyard, but town shellfish officials try to keep it alive, and recently they've seen signs of hope for the future.
West Tisbury will have its first commercial oyster fishing season in three years and the shortest season ever, Tom Osmers of the shellfish committee told the selectmen at the Dec. 6 selectmen's meeting.
The season opened Monday and will continue through Jan. 10, from 8 am to 4 pm, except Christmas and New Year's days. The committee also reduced the number of bushels the fishermen are allowed to keep this year from three to two per day.
Although disease had decimated the oyster population in recent years, Mr. Osmers reported signs of resurgence and an abundance of close to legal size oysters in Tisbury Great Pond.
The fishermen also will be asked to keep only the three-to-four-inch oysters and return the larger ones for seeding, he said. He said five or six commercial fishermen are interested in getting the licenses.
Mr. Osmers noted how the oyster fishing has changed in the past 30 years, decreasing significantly each decade. "We used to get 20 bushels a day," he said.
The shellfish committee will evaluate this season and report to the selectmen in January.
In Chilmark, which had no oyster fishing last year, the selectmen last week approved an increase in the commercial oystering limit from two to three boxes a day, but limited the fishing days to Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
In making the recommendation, selectman Warren Doty said, "Traditionally, oystering has been kept to three days a week."
Shellfish constable Stanley Larsen had asked in a letter that the oyster limit be increased to three boxes, five days a week, based on requests of commercial fishermen John Armstrong and Karsten Larsen, who have been fishing in Squibnocket Pond. Both fishermen verified that stocks are sufficient to warrant the increase, Stanley Larsen said.
He also said he believed the market demand will regulate the fishermen's catches, and after the holidays, consumer demand will decrease. The oystering season in Chilmark opened in early November and will continue on a month-to-month basis depending on the weather, demand and other factors, Mr. Larsen said Monday. He also reported a poor scalloping season with only two fishermen working in late November, but reports of new seed.
Chilmark has established a shellfish restoration committee to review the shellfish program and possibly set up a shellfish department.
Edgartown has not opened an oyster season and probably won't until March, shellfish constable Paul Bagnall said Monday. For oystering, the air temperature must reach 28 degrees by 10 am, he said.
The scallop season has been underway since Nov. 1 in Edgartown, but Mr. Bagnall said it has been a "very poor year" with slightly more than 500 bushels collected. Although about 30 boats started fishing oysters, there are now only about five to 10 out each day on Cape Pogue, the Outer Harbor and Katama Bay, he said.
He also compared shellfishing to the early 1980s, when fishermen harvested up to 125 of the five-bushel limits a day.
Edgartown selectmen approved an aquaculture grant Monday for Daniel J. Donnelly to allow him to farm oysters in Katama Bay. He joins several others who have set up the "farms" in the bay.
Mr. Bagnall, also a marine biologist, said he is working with the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole to understand and combat shellfish diseases.