Two Island fishermen’s groups steer different courses

Menemsha is home to a small commercial fishing fleet. — Photo by Kris Rabasca

In a joint conference call on June 26, 2012, representatives of the Martha’s Vineyard/Dukes County Fishermen’s Association and Cape Wind Associates announced that the Island-based fishermen’s association had ended its federal lawsuit against the proposed wind farm on Horseshoe Shoal and entered into a settlement agreement with Cape Wind valued at approximately $1.25 million.

The agreement called for the Fishermen’s Association to support the Cape Wind project “as a sustainable source of clean energy for the future.” In exchange, Cape Wind and the association agreed to work together to establish a Martha’s Vineyard Permit Bank that would enable the purchase of commercial fishing permits for use by local commercial fishermen and the promotion of “Vineyard wild-caught” seafood.

One month later, in papers filed July 23, 2012 with the Office of the Secretary of State, the Menemsha Fishermen’s Preservation Trust Inc. was renamed the Martha’s Vineyard Fishermen’s Preservation Trust, Inc., in order to handle the proceeds of the settlement.

Although the Association existed under the umbrella of county government, at the time,

Warren Doty, a Chilmark selectman who had spearheaded the creation of the Fishermen’s Association and the associated MV Fishermen’s Preservation Trust, and who was president of both entities, said he was bound by a confidentiality agreement not to reveal the settlement amount. Mr. Doty said the newly created and renamed nonprofit corporation would administer a permit bank designed to enable fishermen to buy into permit fisheries closed to new entries.

Two years later, the Fishermen’s Association appears to be in organizational disarray. The Fishermen’s Preservation Trust, following a long dormant period in which its tax exempt status was revoked by the IRS, is undergoing a revival, with a small group of stakeholders organizing to define the group’s mission, and researching the best way to support local fishermen.

Gaining traction

The Menemsha Fishermen’s Preservation Trust, was incorporated on October 3, 2011. Incorporation papers listed Wesley Brighton, a commercial fisherman from Chilmark as president, Shelley Edmundson, a fisheries researcher from Vineyard Haven as treasurer, and Katherine Carroll of Chilmark as clerk. The corporation was organized as a standard 501(C)(3) corporation, for charitable, educational, and scientific purposes.

In a July 23, 2012 filing with the Massachusetts Secretary of State, the Menemsha Fishermen’s Trust became the Martha’s Vineyard Fishermen’s Preservation Trust and was reorganized with Mr. Doty as president, Ms. Edmundson as treasurer, Ms. Carroll as clerk. All three are also listed as directors. In addition, Mr. Brighton and John Keene, the well-respected owner of an excavation and construction materials company from Chilmark, are listed as directors.

Other than that routine application to record a change of officers, and another routine application to change the name of the organization, there is no record that the trust filed any annual reports with the Secretary of State or the Attorney General, as required by state law. There is no record that the trust filed any annual tax statements, as required by federal law. On May 15, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) automatically revoked the trust’s tax exempt status for “its failure to file a Form 990-series return or notice for three consecutive years,” according to the IRS.

In a telephone conversation last week, Mr. Doty confirmed that the Fishermen’s Preservation Trust did not file the required reports with state and federal governments

“We didn’t do it,” Mr. Doty said. “We were very inactive in 2013 and we didn’t file the proper paperwork. We need to do that.” He said the Fishermen’s Preservation Trust is working to file the necessary tax documents, in order to get back in good graces with the IRS.

Mr. Doty, an outspoken advocate for commercial fishing interests in Menemsha and on the Island, said the group has made substantial organizational progress since it began meeting regularly in May of this year. Other members reached by The Times agreed.

“This organization is finally getting a little bit of traction,” Mr. Brighton said in a phone call. “The Cape Cod Fishermen’s Alliance, they’re helping us quite a lot. We’re trying to get funding for Shelly (Edmundson) so we can have a full-time employee, as opposed to a bunch of people that have full-time jobs, who are very eager at meetings, but are challenged with getting things done.”

Ms. Edmundson, a doctoral student at the University of New Hampshire and conch researcher, said the Fishermen’s Preservation Trust established a website in June, and is working on other ways to increase its visibility. “I feel strongly about this group,” she said. “In the next year you’ll see a lot of momentum.”

Funding is contingent

The Cape Wind facility would occupy a 25-square-mile section of Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound and generate a maximum electric output of 468 megawatts with an average anticipated output of 182 megawatts, according to federal documents.

In a recent email, Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rogers said that Cape Wind, according to the agreement, could not disclose the amount of the settlement agreement, but he confirmed that payment is contingent on the wind project getting its final financing in place, which Cape Wind executives expect to happen before the end of 2014.

Local sources with knowledge of the settlement details said the agreement calls for Cape Wind to pay the Fishermen’s Preservation Trust $250,000 when project financing is in place. The agreement calls for Cape Wind to pay an additional $1 million once permitting for the wind farm is in place.

Confidentiality bound

Two years later, Mr. Doty is sticking with the agreement to keep the financial terms of the settlement secret.

“I’m not supposed to divulge that,” Mr. Doty said last week. “We did sign a nondisclosure settlement that we won’t talk about.”

Asked to explain the contradiction inherent in a lawsuit that claimed that the wind project would permanently end fishing in the Horseshoe Shoals area and the settlement language which announced strong support for Cape Wind, Mr. Doty said that at the time the Fishermen’s Association was in a financial bind.

“We had run up $125,000 worth of legal bills,” Mr. Doty said. “The law firm agreed to do the first $75,000 pro bono. We raised about $25,000, but we were still way short of our bill. The lawyers said what’s your plan, to continue would be another $150,000. We can’t raise that kind of money. They suggested a settlement.”

Despite the potential funding, the organization’s officers remain ambivalent about the financial settlement, and Cape Wind.

“I think if Cape Wind doesn’t happen, that would be great,” Mr. Doty said. “We were opposed from start to finish.”

“We’re in an uphill battle on public relations because of the lawsuit, and the stupid non-disclosure agreement,” Mr. Brighton said, acknowledging some of the hard feelings the organization’s reversal generated on the waterfront. “The public thinks we’re Halliburton in some way, where we have this back door dealing in secret meeting rooms, when all we’re trying to do is keep these kids fishing. Cape Wind required us to have the non-disclosure.”

“It would be nice if Cape Wind doesn’t get built and the settlement money doesn’t come in,” Ms. Edmundson said.

Off the line

Even as the Fishermen’s Preservation Trust moves forward, its parent organization, the Fishermen’s Association, formed under the auspices of Dukes County, remains adrift. The organization has not filed any reports with county officials in the past year. The organization’s web page on the Dukes County web site is more than a year out of date. The phone number listed for more information is disconnected. And there is no record of any articles of organization, or annual reports detailing the name and address of the group, time of its last annual meeting, and names and addresses of officers, required by state regulators.

County commissioner Tristan Israel, also a Tisbury selectman, helped form the Fishermen’s Association under the umbrella of the Dukes County government.

“I’ve sort of seen the thing fall apart, and I’ve been disappointed about that,” Mr. Israel told The Times. “If we don’t hear anything in the next few months, we ought to dissolve it. We can’t have an organization that doesn’t exist.”

Mr. Doty stepped down as president of of the Fishermen’s Association last year. On April 24, 2013, the county commissioners appointed charter fisherman Alex Friedman of Edgartown to the position. According to the county minutes, the commissioners requested quarterly updates “either in person or in writing.”

At a Division of Marine Fisheries hearing in February 2014, Mr. Friedman testified on behalf of commercial interests and spoke as president of the Fishermen’s Association. He asked not to be reappointed when his term expired on March 1, according to county manager Martina Thornton.

Ms. Thornton said the county placed advertisements seeking someone to fill the post, but received no interest. Asked how the county viewed an organization that appears defunct using its name, Ms. Thornton declined comment.

Mr. Friedman did not respond to repeated messages left on his voicemail.

“As far as I know he’s [Mr. Friedman] never called a meeting,” Mr. Doty told The Times. “The Fishermen’s Association has been inactive. It’s disappointing, but I think there’s a real need for that organization. I think the county commissioners really want to support it. There has to be some young guys that want to step up.”

Contradiction in terms

In June, 2010, among the first actions of the Martha’s Vineyard/Dukes County Fishermen’s Association was to file a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of the fishermen’s association, and individually on behalf of association member Jonathan Mayhew to stop the Cape Wind project on Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound.

The defendants were Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar and the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOE).

Mr. Mayhew is a longtime commercial fisherman and Chilmark selectman. He was a party to the settlement.

In a 16-page complaint, attorneys David Frulla and Shaun Gehan of Kelley Drye and Warren said the Cape Wind energy project would effectively end all commercial fishing on Horseshoe Shoal — prime, historic fishing grounds for Vineyard fishermen.

Two years later, the fishermen’s association reversed its position, and agreed to settle the lawsuit with Cape Wind.

Just before the settlement was announced, four of the seven county commissioners and acting county manager and county treasurer Noreen Mavro Flanders met in executive session with Mr. Doty and Mr. Brighton.

According to minutes of that session, Mr. Doty told the commissioner that his group’s law firm had worked out a settlement deal with Cape Wind that would soon be made public. Although the Fishermen’s Association operates under the umbrella of Dukes County government, the commissioners signed off on the agreement without a request that Mr. Doty reveal the settlement amount.

On the Menemsha dock, where a small group of fishermen continue to pull a living out of the sea, commercial fisherman Alec Gale, co-owner of the Menemsha Fish House, a wholesale seafood seller, said the Fishermen’s Association has not been on the minds of local fishermen.

“There’s been no talk of anything at the docks,” Mr. Gale said. “It was a pretty sour subject. A lot of people that were involved with the association were not happy with not getting informed about, or not agreeing on settlement of the lawsuit. There was no meeting or anything.”