Ronald Amidon, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Wildlife, came on-Island to visit representatives from the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group and the Martha’s Vineyard Fishermen’s Preservation Trust on Oct. 19. After reviewing shellfish and kelp propagation operations at the John T. Hughes Lobster Hatchery in Oak Bluffs and discussing commercial and recreation fishing with principals from the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass & Bluefish Derby, as well as the fishermen’s trust, Amidon threw his support behind nonprofit efforts to maintain a fishing economy on the Vineyard.
“Clearly the Island has a long history of fishermen working very hard at sea to catch the wide variety of species that bless Martha’s Vineyard,” Amidon wrote in an email to The Times. “It is also clear that it is becoming harder for the small boat owner to compete with the large corporate fleets and the rising costs of fishing permits and shared quotas. I believe there is a direct link between locally harvested fish being sold locally by those fishermen and the health of the local economy. It is then vitally important that we find ways to sustain the local fishermen to preserve their access to these fisheries through permit banks to be held by the local people of Martha’s Vineyard. The Department of Fish and Game and the Division of Marine Fisheries continues to support the M..V Fishermen’s Preservation Trust in their efforts. This is one way that we can ensure a long-lasting, sustainable local fishery for these owner-operators.”
One of the goals of the trust is to mitigate the expensive buy-in costs of commercial fishing permits by building a bank of permits and quotas it can offer at an amortized rate to Vineyard fishermen. Trust board members told The Times they expect every new permit brought to the Vineyard will create a chain-reaction boost to several parts of the Island economy. A portion of a federal sea scallop quota purchased for $1,000,000 is the most valuable deposit in the trust’s burgeoning bank. West Tisbury mariner Sam Hopkins leases the quota, and regularly brings fresh sea scallops to the Vineyard.
“I walked away from our meeting with a sense that our mission of supporting our independent local fisheries and their participants is gaining a strong momentum, and has support at many levels,” John Keene, president of the trust, texted The Times. “Commissioner Amidon, [Environmental Police Major Pat] Moran, and [Environmental Police Lt. Matt] Bass were all very engaging and encouraging as we discussed many of our challenges and needs. They understand the need to support local fishermen as stewards of our marine ecosystems and economies.”
Amidon pointed out that the Vineyard’s lofty real estate prices, coupled with its high cost of living, exacerbate the challenges Island fishermen face.
“Separately there appears to be another obstacle in the path of our fishing community, and that is the rapid growth of high-value development,” he wrote. “Ironically the allure of the Island’s heritage and the way of the life of our fishermen has brought new neighbors, pushing up the cost of living on the Island, making it more difficult for the fishing families to live and work on the Island. Our hope is that the mission and the proposed solutions as proposed by the M.V. Fishermen’s Preservation Trust are heard by the community, and they support the trust and their mission in order to protect the heritage and allure of the Island that brought them there in the first place.”
At the Hughes Hatchery, Amidon saw channel whelk research firsthand, as well as operations for kelp-farming support that have enabled Cottage City Oysters to become the state’s sole viable commercial kelp-farming outfit.
“The Department of Fish and Game and the Division of Marine Fisheries continue to support the ongoing efforts of the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group,” Amidon wrote, “as they are a vital component in a new and rapidly growing part of our fishing industry. It is our hope that they can continue to build upon their success in developing new studies and methods of improving shellfish aquaculture. Their efforts will go a long way in helping to develop more resources for the local fishing community and the growth of the local economy.”
“The commissioner seemed very enthusiastic about the work being done by MVSG [Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group],” the group’s co-director Amandine Hall wrote in an email to The Times. “He asked a lot of questions, and seemed impressed with our production numbers. When he heard about our kelp work, he related that a friend of his from the Marine Fisheries Advisory Commission grew some as well, to grind and feed his oysters, and encouraged me to contact him to share thoughts on the matter. I would say it was a very successful visit.”