Derby sees success despite uncertainty

Registration surpasses 3,000, fillet program supports seniors and students.

Chester the seafaring terrier is fascinated by eels during an evening of fishing in Menemsha. — Courtesy Mark Bergeron

The 75th Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby has seen tremendous success so far, even with a number of logistical challenges brought on by COVID-19.

According to an email from Derby president John Custer, after a little more than three weeks of fishing, more than 3,000 anglers have registered. He said in the email that seeing the number of participants is “really gratifying” for the Derby community, after not even knowing whether the tournament would be able to take place.

“There was a lot of uncertainty going into this year’s event, so we are pleased to see strong support from our participants,” Custer wrote. 

And with so many fishermen competing this year, Custer noted that the fish are cooperating, and “fishing has been excellent.”

He said that while that is encouraging and exciting, it also means that the Island community benefits more from the fillet program offered by the Derby. 

This year, and in years past, the Derby has offered fresh fish fillets from fish that were weighed in the tournament to seniors involved in the Councils on Aging, and any senior who needs the assistance. 

The fillet program is offered by the Derby to provide free fish for Island elderly. Fishermen may donate any or all of their catch to this program. Fishermen are asked to keep their catch as fresh as possible, whether or not they intend to donate it to the program. Previously filleted fish will not be accepted. 

But there is a new addition to the fillet program, where Derby officials will work with Island Grown Initiative (IGI) to provide fresh fish for students and their families, as part of the school lunch programs offered by Island schools.

Custer wrote that the bountiful fishing has allowed fillet programs to see great success this year, and “the Island seniors are very appreciative of this. It’s one of the great parts of the Derby.”

Going forward, Custer wrote that he has his fingers crossed the fish will stay biting and the good weather will go on. “We are looking forward to a strong finish. The fishing continues to be solid, and people continue to be safe and mindful of smart practices,” Custer wrote.

Custer noted the number of changes that had to occur in order for the Derby to continue this year, and thanked the Island community for being understanding, adaptive, and passionate about this major Island tradition. “We know there have been lots of changes, and people have been understanding and supportive. The Derby means a great deal to so many, and we are certainly seeing that this year,” Custer wrote.

Chairman of the Derby committee Joe El-Deiry told The Times on a phone call that he can’t remember the last time the Derby had this many fillets to offer to seniors. He noted the addition to the program of providing fillets to Island schools, and thanked IGI for its part.

El-Deiry echoed Custer’s notion that the fishing has been “phenomenal,” and although registration numbers aren’t quite what they have been in the past, he is happy to see so many people participating.

“It’s understandable there are less participants because of COVID and travel restrictions, but we are just very happy to see people out fishing,” El-Deiry said.

He thanked anglers for being understanding and following all the health protocols, particularly at the weigh station, which was initially a concern for Derby officials. “Everyone knows they aren’t allowed in the weigh station without a mask, and everyone has been great about following all the necessary protocols,” El-Deiry said.

And the feedback from the community, according to El-Deiry, has all been positive. “They all very much appreciate the Derby committee and the hours everyone has put into making this happen,” El-Deiry said. “It has been a process involving so much energy and thoughtfulness.”