Tisbury selectmen stand pat in face of scallopers’ request

Tisbury selectmen met Tuesday night and heard from several commercial fishermen requesting the re-opening of Lagoon Pond to scalloping. — Photo by Cathryn McCann

In their last meeting of the year, Tisbury selectmen met Tuesday night and heard a request from several commercial fishermen to reopen a portion of Lagoon Pond to dipnetting from boats for scallops. Selectmen declined to reverse their earlier decision to close the pond, made at the request of the shellfish constable with the backing of the shellfish committee.

A poor scallop season across the Cape and islands has driven the retail price of the highly prized mollusks up to $30 per pound in the fish market, which translates into a big payday for those fishermen still able to find the bivalves.

The fishermen presented a petition to selectmen asking to be allowed to dipnet from boats north of Hines Point and drag for scallops south of Hines Point. The petition requested 10 additional commercial days, starting Dec. 23, with a catch limit of one bushel per day per license. A bushel yields about seven pounds of shucked scallops.

“We believe that the lagoon was closed prematurely and did not allow commercial fishermen the opportunity to harvest adult scallops from areas south of Hines Point,” the petition read. “As the weather changes, the bottom changes, and adult scallops become easier to locate under grass and moss.”

Lynne Fraker, a commercial fisherman, said the petitioners were hoping to work with the Tisbury shellfish constable, Danielle Ewart.

“We’re asking for a compromise, and we came up with a plan that we thought would be reasonable,” Ms. Fraker said. “The price is quite high right now. When they’re $30 a pound and we can work for a short time in an area where there isn’t seed, why wouldn’t we be able to do that?”

Tom Searle said that while quahogging, he was coming across adult scallops. “I’ve been digging quahogs for the past few weeks since they closed the pond to scalloping, and I’ve been getting quite a few adults [scallops] on the back side of Hines Point,” Mr. Searle said. “There’s no damage done to the seed; there’s no disturbance to the seed.”

He also took issue with the Oak Bluffs side of the lagoon remaining open.

“Why is Oak Bluffs still open and we’re the same pond?” Mr. Searle said. “They can drag right up tight to our line.”

He added that he depends on the revenue from scalloping.

“Most of us sitting right here depend on this for 99 percent of our income,” he said. “We’re scraping right now. When you’re making your income off the water, this is what you depend on.”

James Tilton, chairman of the Tisbury shellfish committee, emphasized the original goal of the closure. He said there are a number of large scallops that are still not legally harvestable.

“The idea of closing it is to protect the seed,” he said. “The temptation at $30 a pound is there … but even throwing the dipnet ones back is a disturbance to them. Our recommendation stands.”

Ms. Ewart stood by her original recommendation as well.

“I saw the petition and was a little surprised,” she said. “We closed it on the 24th to all scalloping, and I would like to see it remain closed.”

At a meeting on Nov. 24, Ms. Ewart proposed making the lagoon closure effective Wednesday, Nov. 25, due to an abundance of seed scallops. Larry Gomez and Tristan Israel, in an effort to compromise with the fishermen, voted to close the lagoon effective Wednesday, Nov. 25, but keep the outer harbor open until Dec. 31.

Tuesday, Mr. Searle said he thought he could fall back on scalloping in the outer harbor, but that it was unsuccessful.

“Whatever your opinion is of how we manage the town, I don’t want to start second-guessing,” Mr. Israel said. “I supported keeping the outer harbor open, which was not in tune with what the shellfish warden wanted. Danielle does know a lot about this, she may have a different opinion than you as to how this all works, but for this season I’m really reluctant to change this again.”

He said holding a conversation in the off-season to talk about the 2016 scalloping season would be worthwhile. He also said having the shellfish committee sit down with the Oak Bluffs shellfish committee could provide some uniformity.

Selectman Melinda Loberg said that some years aren’t as productive as others, and that New England has lost a lot of fisheries due to the pressure put on them.

“The job is to try to balance the needs of the fishermen with the fishery itself,” she said. “We’re trying to preserve it for the next year or the year after that.”

Mr. Gomez said he thought the prior vote to keep the outer lagoon open was a good compromise.

“I voted against the full closure and against Danielle, and I thought we were compromising,” he said. “I don’t want to also go against someone we hired to do this; she’s got full authority to do this, and I don’t want to go against her wishes this time.”

The board voted to take no action on the petition. The current lagoon closure, effective Nov. 25, stands.

In other business, the board voted to co-sponsor, with the board of health, an article at the annual town meeting proposing a bylaw banning the use of plastic bags. If passed, the ban would not take effect until January 2017.

Town administrator Jay Grande said that at a meeting Monday, George Balco and David Willoughby were appointed as chairman and vice chairman of the new Tisbury Department of Public Works advisory board.