To support the hard work of the Island fishing community, the Martha’s Vineyard Fisherman’s Preservation Trusts hosted “Meet the Fleet” last Thursday. This year’s fifth annual event invited the community onto the boats to give people an inside look at where their favorite fish comes from.
Island residents and visitors are afforded a wide variety of locally caught seafood in our fish markets and restaurants. But the cod, haddock, and scallops are only there because fishermen, from Martha’s Vineyard and beyond, cast their nets and their lines, rain or shine.
Lined up along the weathered Menemsha docks were fishing vessels old and new, large and small. Families explored the cabins of the vessels, while their adventurous kids hopped from boat deck to boat deck as if stepping over a sidewalk crack.
The Roann stood tall among them. Roann is a retired codfishing boat now moored at the Mystic Seaport Museum. Originally built in 1944, it is a floating piece of history. The Coast Guard helped people aboard their patrol boat, and inside the cockpit, officers explained the uses of bits and bobs on the control panel.
Beside it was the Massachusetts Environmental Police patrol boat Thomas Payne. Lt. Matthew Bass showed off everything inside from the radar to the full kitchen where officers were munching on Cape Cod potato chips. Capt. Denny Jason Jr. welcomed visitors to see his family’s fluke-fishing boat, Little Lady. The ship was first owned by his grandfather, and is still operating 90 years later.
A silent auction gave bidders a chance to win an array of marine-themed prizes: a beachcombing walk with an expert, a fish-printing party, a trip aboard the Magic Carpet sailboat, clamming lessons with Tisbury shellfish advisory committee member Bill Sweeney, and more.
Children scuttled between a variety of activities. Some kids painted over the bodies of scup and black sea bass and pressed them into fabric to make fish prints. Others were cheering on their champions in a crab race, while still others patted sea life in a touch tank.
Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Katie Theoharides was in attendance. Theoharides was sworn in as secretary in April, and local officials were clamoring to meet her.
“I’m glad to be here to show support for our local fishing industry,” she said. Symbolizing her support, she donned a Fishermen’s Preservation Trust baseball cap.
Five volunteers lined up on the bow of the Coast Guard cruiser, and at the blow of a whistle, competed to see who could pull on bright red water-immersion survival suits, jump into the water, swim out, and touch the hull of another waiting Coast Guard boat first.
These suits are kept on Coast Guard boats at all times in case of emergency, said Senior Chief Justin Longval, Station Menemsha Coast Guard. The neoprene material gives the wearer high buoyancy and protection against cold waters. The five looked like clumsy lobsters as they wriggled their way into the full-body suits. Craig Montel reached the boat first, and was crowned the winner with a T shirt.
Jei Thayer was one of the onlookers from the docks. She appreciated the demonstration for what it didn’t show. “It gives you a small taste of what they do. Because you know that when they do this in a real emergency, it’s not in sunny calm waters — they’re really risking their lives!”
President of the M.V. Fishermen’s Preservation Trust John Keene thanked the community for showing up and supporting the organization.
“It’s not everywhere in the country where you can walk down to your local fish market and buy fish fresh off the boat; from seafood floor to fish house door,” said Vineyard fisherman Sam Hopkins.
Trust board member Wes Brighton added, “[Menemsha] is one of the few waterfronts remaining not owned by corporations. We’ve learned from our mistakes, and have adopted sustainable practices, but we need access to this water to keep going.”
Brighton brought the point home by gesturing to the docks and the water: “All this is at risk.”