Shellfishing closure blamed on geese droppings

Aquinnah officials are entertaining the idea of hunting geese to cut down on bacteria entering Menemsha Pond.

Aquinnah officials say that the presence of geese is leading to shellfishing closures. —MV Times

Updated August 31st.

At Tuesday’s Aquinnah Select Board meeting, town harbormaster and shellfish warden Chip Vanderhoop encouraged the hunting of Canada geese at Menemsha Pond to ease shellfishing closures. 

Most of the pond’s shellfishing has been closed this summer due to coliform bacteria levels, contributed to by the resident goose population in the pond’s northwestern corner and parts of its western shore. Only some northern parts of Red Beach have been available for shellfishing.

“There’s been a growing problem,” said Vanderhoop on Tuesday, referring to a presence that he says might have started four or five years ago, with three geese in the Herring Creek area. “Ever since … global warming, Canadian geese used to be migratory birds, but it’s been so nice around here in the wintertime that they migrate from Canada and land here. Or the ones that reside here don’t leave here, because they can get along without going South.” 

Vanderhoop said that this spring — the time of year when the pond has its most significant goose presence — he photographed 38 goose adults and goslings in Red Beach’s northwest corner, near its stream.

Menemsha Pond is tested several times a year by the state Division of Marine Fisheries. Vanderhoop noted at the meeting that this year, the tests might have occurred shortly after a rain event. Such runoff into the pond increases the likelihood of bacteria levels that would trigger shellfishing closures. However, Vanderhoop added that by this spring the issue is unlikely to have improved.

At the meeting, Vanderhoop asked the room, “Who here has ever eaten a goose on Christmas? … That is the immediate thought.”

Emma Green-Beach, executive director and shellfish biologist of the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group (MVSG), also spoke on the issue at the meeting. “This goose problem — the birds creating bacterial problems — is everywhere,” she said. “And every pond just gets to deal with it a little differently.” Green-Beach additionally noted that because Menemsha Pond is already jettied open, creating more openings would not be a solution, as it has been in Chilmark Pond. 

MVSG does not operate in the pond, but does supply seeds (baby shellfish) to grow there. This year, MVSG supplied over 2 million quahog seeds and 3 to 5 million scallop seeds to each town.

Green-Beach also raised an alternate option for managing the pond’s geese population: egg addling. This would entail locating goose nests in the spring, and rolling eggs in vegetable oil to suffocate them. This is in contrast to simply removing goose eggs, which would lead geese to lay replacements. In other Vineyard towns, this process has involved shellfish departments, animal control departments, and volunteers. Green-Beach’s dog has also distracted geese in past egg-addling efforts.

Another option, raised by Vanderhoop, is avian pyrotechnics. 

“We would need a little gun; it usually shoots a flare,” Vanderhoop said. “It goes about 100 feet. It makes a whistling noise, and then a ‘pow!’ If [geese] are disturbed when they’re trying to build a nest, they won’t build a nest there.”

Select board member Juli Vanderhoop was receptive to the issue. “Before next season’s egg hatching, we should definitely bring it back between the Shellfish Group and the select board to figure out what exactly we’re going to do,” she said. “Because [geese] are such a nuisance everywhere.”

When asked how Canada geese taste, Vanderhoop shared his recommendations. “I like them better [the] next day, because it tastes like what roast beef sandwiches taste like — it’s good,” he said. “The drumsticks are kind of sinewy, and tendons all over the place, but you can put them in a pressure cooker.”

Massachusetts’s 2023–24 early Canada goose hunting season is from Sept. 1–22, with a bag limit of 15, and possession limit of 45. The early season provides more time to landowners to allow hunters to reduce the size of nuisance flocks of resident geese. While much of the state has a regular geese hunting season in the winter, the Vineyard does not.


    • I’m not so sure this does anything to control the population of geese so much as it just moves them to your neighbors yard.

  1. Maybe Mr. Vanderhoop could make available the research data and facts to support his pond bacteria claims before a Wild West shootout is considered or enacted ?

  2. Aquinnah is not alone. All Martha’s Vineyard towns have a significant non-migratory Canada goose problem.
    The average goose produces about a pound of droppings daily. These droppings are a significant source of bacterial contamination and nitrogen loading in island waterbodies, affecting shellfish and water quality.
    Years ago, Dr. Stephen H. Jones of the University of New Hampshire Jackson Estuarine Laboratory in Durham, N.H., completed a report (“E. coli Ribotyping for Identifying Sources of Fecal Contamination in the Salt Ponds of Martha’s Vineyard”) on his investigation into the most significant sources of bacterial contamination in Trapps, Eel, Farm, and Sengekontacket ponds. “Overall,” he wrote, “the results from this study are strong indications of significant bird sources, particularly cormorants and geese.”
    Geese are a problem for Island farmers. They feed on young growth and pull vegetation up by the roots so plants no longer grow.
    Although DFW recommends several strategies to move geese from an area, the result is a relocation of the problem. DFW said the most efficient way to reduce the size of a flock is to increase the mortality of adult geese, resulting in fewer birds laying eggs and adding fewer goslings to the population. Studies indicate a harvest of at least 30 to 35 percent is needed.
    The early season and its generous bag limit are intended to reduce growing non-migratory goose populations. Unfortunately, many Island hunters do not have the time or interest to hunt geese in September when visitors and mosquitoes are still buzzing around. And what to do with all these geese? I recall driving around trying to give geese away.
    When the regular goose season commences in late October, the limit is two birds, a small incentive to rise before dawn or give up a day of deer hunting. Unfortunately, the state’s late winter hunting season, which has a five-bird daily limit, is unavailable to the Cape and islands. DFW says the prohibition is in place to protect a depressed population of migratory birds from Labrador and Newfoundland. But I think the small risk to migratory geese is outweighed by the need to reduce non-migratory numbers. Press state wildlife officials to give the Island a late season.

    • Amen Brother Nelson.
      You speak the truth, and anyone who knows you knows you exemplify the true environmentalist spirt that the island needs.

  3. What should we do about the nitrogen overload from human waste which includes any medication we digest, then flush into our septic systems. All of this eventually leaches underground to our aquifer and runs havoc in many areas like the ponds, rivers, streams and in humans.

  4. Dogs are the answer. They may poop on the beach but not in the water. If you let them go to the beach at high tide, they will do the job.

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