Tisbury selectmen partially approve mooring regs

There’s no question about the importance of eelgrass, but buoy types continue to be debated.


In attempt to save rapidly depleting eelgrass, Tisbury selectmen approved a portion of new mooring regulations as “interim regulations” until they can address some of the more complicated issues involving conservation moorings.

Conservation moorings differ extensively from conventional moorings. Instead of chain connecting a block of cement or mushroom anchor that sits on the harbor bottom to a floating mooring buoy, the conservation moorings have an elastic cord made up of a mix of rubber, plastic, and polyester woven together. Because the cord is connected to the anchor by a buoy that floats beneath the surface of the water, the mooring line does not drag along the seafloor, as does a chain, which is customarily much longer than the cord.

For Lagoon Pond, Lake Tashmoo, and Vineyard Haven Harbor, the benefit of conservation moorings is the preservation of eelgrass — a vital part of the seabed. Eelgrass is important habitat for juvenile scallops, fish, and all manner of sea life, and is an indicator of water quality. It is doing poorly or disappearing altogether in some Tisbury waters.

“I believe it’s nearly criminal for us to continue to use these conventional moorings when there is a very viable alternative,” Jay Wilbur, former Tisbury harbormaster, told The Times in an interview in February. Mr. Wilbur has begun a private mooring business that promotes conservation moorings.

In March, selectmen approved a temporary moratorium on the installation of additional conservation moorings in Tisbury waters, ending May 24. On Tuesday, more than 30 people showed up at Katharine Cornell Theater to voice either support or opposition to the new regulations, and public opinion was split down the middle.

The regulations state that inspections must be conducted regularly each year, and in the first year, the inspection would be done in the water. Every three years, the mooring has to be removed for closer inspection to determine the wear and tear and overall safety of the mooring, Jay Grande, town administrator, told The Times on Wednesday.

“We still allow conservation moorings,” Mr. Grande said. “Selectmen have not precluded the use of them.” He estimated the regulations will be finalized in the next two months.

There was debate between which kind of buoy worked best after part of the regulations required the buoys be ball and chain as opposed to a spar buoy, which is a rod-like buoy that stands vertically in the water. Many boat owners said they favored spar buoys, stating they are easier to access when approaching by boat, and more cost-effective because they can remain in the waters during the winter.

But those who opposed spar buoys — like the harbormaster and members of harbor management committee — say they sink after accumulating growth, and that they are hard to identify.

Selectman Tristan Israel made a motion to ban spar buoys, with the exception of those already in the water and those with pending applications, but it failed.

John Crocker, Tisbury harbormaster, said the concern is the ability to properly inspect spar buoys. He said there are 750 moorings in Tisbury, and at least 700 are standard mooring balls. Responding to comments that spar buoys are easier to approach by boat because a person doesn’t have to lean over the bow, risking falling in the water, Mr. Crocker said, “I am not aware that I’ve ever had a report of people falling out of their boat coming up to their mooring.”

Steve Bessey, a boat owner in Vineyard Haven, said he has both kinds of buoys, and he much preferred a spar buoy. “It’s a better system, it’s simpler, fewer wear points, no chain. Please don’t outlaw these things.”

Other people in support of conservation moorings were Danielle Ewart, Tisbury shellfish constable, and Heidi Raihofer, a diver who inspects moorings. Both the harbormaster and Jim Lobdell, chairman of the harbor management committee, said there is a place for both kinds of moorings in Tisbury waters, and that it came down to consistency in order to properly regulate and inspect the different kinds of moorings.

They agreed that where there are eelgrass-sensitive areas, conservation moorings should be used, but in areas where the bottom is solely mud, chain moorings could still be used.

But selectmen Melinda Loberg asked why the committee was limiting conservation moorings to only the places that have eelgrass. She asked them to consider the areas that once had eelgrass, too.

“Why are we giving up on the inner harbor?” Ms. Loberg said.