Edgartown debates great pond opening
Edgartown oyster fishermen and the shellfish constable argued Monday at the selectmen's meeting over the timing of the opening of Edgartown Great Pond to the ocean.
The fishermen and members of the shellfish committee aimed their considerable criticism at shellfish constable Paul Bagnall for not opening the pond to the ocean by March 1, the beginning of oyster season. The increase in salinity of the pond creates a better product. The pond is typically opened once the water reaches a high level.
"I want to know why the pond is not open," fisherman William "Boo" Bassett said. "I can't sell my oysters. It's put me out of business."
Mr. Bassett complained that Mr. Bagnall had opened the concrete sluiceway that connects the pond to Crackatuxet Cove and Katama Bay thereby lowering the pond water level. He said he had taken matters into his own hands and put the sluiceway boards back. "Now the pond is high enough to open this week," he told the selectmen.
Mr. Bagnall said he and Mr. Bassett were trying to do the same thing, but opening the pond, he said, "would be a disastrous thing at this time."
"Opening the pond is a day-to-day thing," Mr. Bagnall said. "Literally, it's a game of inches out there when the pond closes," he said. The phase of the moon, the tides and the seas have to be taken into consideration. Also, on Monday there was too much ice on the pond and the seas were too rough, he said.
"If the sea is over two feet," he said, "we can't open the pond."
Mr. Bagnall said he checks the sluiceway every other day and sometimes every day. The pond has been rising, he said, and if he took all the sluiceway boards out at once, it would drop about one-quarter inch a day to just below sea level. If the sluiceway opening is lowered too much, the Edgartown Great Pond cannot be opened to the ocean, he said.
"That's a lot of double talk," Mr. Bassett said. "The pond is high enough now to open. I want the pond open this week," he demanded.
Mr. Bagnall explained that the town has to hire an excavator to dredge the barrier beach between the pond and the ocean, which costs the town $1,500 each time.
"Let's do it," Donald Benefit, chairman of the shellfish committee, called out.
Selectman chairman Michael Donaroma told Mr. Bassett that he could not remove the sluiceway boards anymore.
"Why open the oyster season if you don't open the pond?" Mr. Bassett countered before stomping out of the meeting.
Mr. Benefit again backed Mr. Bassett, saying the quality of oysters has been poor and they are not marketable. "If the pond is high enough to open...why not open it?"
Harbormaster Charles Blair defended Mr. Bagnall, who has been in charge of opening the pond for 20 years. "I don't agree with it all, but it's very tricky," he said. "You ought to have only one guy doing the sluiceway. When it's tampered with, it's a no-win for everyone."
Mr. Blair noted that there are a lot of different ingredients that go into the pond opening, including scheduling the excavator.
Mr. Donaroma said there is a general concern about the health of the pond. He suggested that all the pond issues should be discussed openly at the shellfish committee meetings.
Tom Wallace, chairman of the Edgartown pond advisory committee, who was at the meeting, said that because the exchange of water is crucial to the pond, his committee is looking into dredging inside the barrier beach.
Toward the end of the meeting, Mr. Bagnall said, "If the pond is under three feet on Tuesday, we'll pull the trigger."
The excavation of the beach began on Wednesday, Mr. Bagnall confirmed. "It's not a perfect day," he said, but he was hoping for a wind change, and added, "We have a 50-50 shot at opening." The beach was wide Wednesday, about 400 to 500 feet across, he said. He also adjusted the boards in the sluiceway.
Five oyster fishermen were on the pond Wednesday.
Despite the contentious feeling at the meeting, Mr. Bagnall said he was glad for the discussion about the pond. He said he has seen improvement in the pond since 1993, when it turned brown from an algae bloom that killed up to 90 percent of the oysters. The oysters have been coming back since then, with a yield last year of almost 2,000 bushels and Mr. Bagnall estimated the yield would be about 1,200 bushels this year. The oyster season is scheduled to go through April.
At the conclusion of Wednesday's meeting, Mr. Blair suggested the pond, shellfish and dredge committees meet together to discuss all the issues. Pamela Dolby, the selectmen's executive secretary, said she would set up joint meetings of the three committees before the end of the month.