Edgartown scalloper dodges license suspension
Edgartown selectmen, sitting as the licensing authority for shellfishing, declined to suspend the license of Richard Morris, who was cited earlier this month for taking more than the legal limit of bay scallops.
In a hearing Monday, shellfish committee chairman Cooper Gilkes said the committee recommended that selectmen suspend Mr. Morris's license for one year.
"The committee is upset, really upset," said Mr. Gilkes. "They wouldn't be recommending this if they weren't."
On Jan. 2, deputy shellfish constable Warren Gaines, inspecting a boat owned by Mark Morris and operated by his brother Richard Morris, found 4.75 bushels of scallops aboard. Three bushels, the daily limit, were in plain view, and 1.75 bushels were hidden in a stern compartment, according to testimony at the hearing. The scallops over the daily limit were confiscated, and five days later, Richard Morris was cited, and fined $100. On Jan. 17, he was served with notice to appear at Monday's hearing.
"It's a pretty cut-and-dried case of being over the limit," said shellfish constable Paul Bagnall. "We've had problems with Richard in the past."
Mr. Bagnall said there was a delay in serving the citation because the mailing address listed on Richard Morris's application for a shellfish license was not current, and the phone number did not work. The address listed was the post office box of the Dukes County jail.
Richard Morris was released from jail on October 10, 2007, after serving one year for a larceny conviction. In the year 2000, he began a one-year jail sentence, after he was convicted on a charge of drug possession, with intent to distribute.
At the hearing, Mark Morris testified that the amount of scallops over the limit belonged to him, and said he didn't take them off the boat because he didn't want to put the scallops in his wife's new car.
"It was my fault, I'm the one that told him to do it," said Mark Morris. "A lot of times they don't check anyway."
The testimony became heated after Mark Morris charged that the town is enforcing its shellfishing regulations selectively because of longstanding personal feuds.
"You know why? Because he's (Richard Morris) supposedly from Oak Bluffs, and you know what, they still tell me to go back to Oak Bluffs, and I've been in this town for 25 years, and I own six houses in Edgartown, and all six of my kids go to Edgartown schools, yet they still tell me to go back to Oak Bluffs, that's what it's all about."
At one point, while the selectmen were still considering sanctions, Mark Morris tossed his shellfishing license on the selectmen's table and told them to take his license also.
The shellfish committee has moved in recent months to tighten enforcement of the regulations. Selectmen Margaret Serpa and Arthur Smadbeck (selectmen Michael Donaroma did not attend) lauded those efforts, but asked that written guidelines with specific sanctions for specific violations be circulated among all local fishermen.
"I'm uncomfortable not supporting the shellfish committee," said Ms. Serpa. "It may be a demonstration that things need to be tightened up and really documented a little bit clearer, the rules given out to everybody, then there is no excuse."
Mr. Smadbeck said a one-year suspension seemed Draconian. "I have great respect for the shellfish committee and what they're doing and what they're trying to do," he said, speaking directly to Richard Morris. "It's very difficult not to take the recommendation. You put us in a very tough position. I'm going to move that there is no suspension of license, at this point in time. If you disobey the rules, your license is going to go away for a long time. I'm doing that because I'm just not comfortable, I just don't have the rules in front of me to be able to say that Mr. Morris has fully understood the gravity of what he's done."
"Everybody gets a chance," Ms. Serpa said to Richard Morris. "This is your chance, don't blow it."
In a phone interview on Tuesday, Mr. Bagnall said he was surprised that the selectmen did not issue any sanction.
"They were supportive of me, but obviously I wanted a better outcome," said Mr. Bagnall. "When you're over your limit, you're basically stealing from everyone else. I know the selectmen don't take it lightly, but I didn't believe their [Richard and Mark Morris's] story."
Mr. Bagnall also vigorously rejected the accusation made by Mark Morris that he enforces the regulations selectively. "That's absolutely not true," he said. "In your day-to-day checking, you see the same 30 people. You get a pretty good feel who's honest. They're all still treated the same. I don't have any patience for their claim of selective enforcement. Where he comes from has nothing to do with it."
Mr. Gilkes was philosophical about the selectmen's action. He said he understood their reluctance to impose any sanction. "That's the way the ball bounces," he said. "We are right now in the building process in this committee. It's okay." He added that notices about the rules and regulations, and sanctions for breaking the rules, will be put together for the next shellfish committee meeting, then distributed to all fishermen.
Both Mr. Gilkes and Mr. Bagnall noted the investment Edgartown makes in shellfishing for industry and recreation. In the current fiscal year, the town is spending approximately $260,000 for shellfish propagation and related expenses.
"The whole project over here is really getting big," said Mr. Gilkes. "With that has got to come some protection."