Ed­i­tor’s Log


Cruising World - - Contents - BY MARK PILLSBURY

Dur­ing a sum­mer filled with news about how seem­ingly no one can get along with any­one else, we found our­selves ashore just in time for the is­land’s third an­nual Meet the Fleet cel­e­bra­tion.

Aweek’s sail­ing ad­ven­ture in early Au­gust be­gan with me curs­ing an off­sea­son nor’easter that nicked south­ern New Eng­land and de­layed our de­par­ture by a cou­ple of days. But then, mostly sunny days, fa­vor­able breezes and fair cur­rents pre­vailed ev­ery time my wife, Sue, and I hoisted the main. And in the end, I was ac­tu­ally thank­ful, in an odd sort of way, when our new itin­er­ary kept us a lit­tle closer to home and we landed in Men­emsha, at the south­west tip of Martha’s Vine­yard. It’s a har­bor we’d al­ways over­looked as we dashed up and down Buz­zards Bay or Vine­yard Sound, bound for more far-flung way­points.

It turns out, the an­chor­age in Men­emsha Bight, out­side the town’s tight in­ner basin, is a lovely spot to stop for a night in set­tled con­di­tions. Bet­ter yet, dur­ing a sum­mer filled with news about how seem­ingly no one can get along with any­one else, we found our­selves ashore just in time for the is­land’s third an­nual Meet the Fleet cel­e­bra­tion in sup­port of the Vine­yard’s frag­ile fish­ing in­dus­try. Good vibes were def­i­nitely the catch of the day.

The dock party was or­ga­nized by the Martha’s Vine­yard Fish­er­men’s Preser­va­tion Trust, a non­profit formed in 2011 by res­i­dents con­cerned that fish­ing as a com­mer­cial livelihood was dy­ing be­cause of dwin­dling stocks, tighter reg­u­la­tions and the high cost of en­try. For the past three years, the group’s been quite ac­tive, meet­ing ev­ery two weeks to get ideas to jell. Then, in Jan­uary, Shel­ley Ed­mund­son, one of the reg­u­lar at­ten­dees, came on as ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor. It’s not a co­in­ci­dence that she re­cently earned her doc­tor­ate in marine bi­ol­ogy, study­ing chan­neled whelk, large marine snails that are of­ten con­fused with conchs be­cause of the shape of their shells. Whelk is con­sid­ered a del­i­cacy in Asia, and it is now the Vine­yard’s largest fish­ery. It’s caught us­ing baited traps, much the same way lob­sters are har­vested, and many of the Vine­yard’s 25 or so whelk fish­er­men also carry lob­ster per­mits.

So far, be­sides build­ing bridges be­tween the is­land’s 50 or so off­shore fish­er­men and lo­cal mar­kets and restau­rants will­ing to buy their catch, the trust has come up with a cou­ple of pro­grams to help young Vine­yarders get a toe in the wa­ter, and to nur­ture the ex­ist­ing fish­ing in­dus­try, which in­cludes whelk, lob­ster, sea bass, ground fish, oysters and clams.

In 2016, Luke Gur­ney, a lo­cal whelk fish­er­man, hus­band and fa­ther of two young chil­dren, was lost at sea off Nan­tucket in a fish­ing ac­ci­dent. In the af­ter­math, the trust worked with Mas­sachusetts of­fi­cials on a pi­lot pro­gram to buy Gur­ney’s fish­ing per­mit and lease it on a ro­tat­ing ba­sis to an is­lan­der hop­ing to break into the busi­ness. Ed­mund­son says teenagers might work on boats and even­tu­ally be able to save enough to buy one of their own, but they then need to come up with an­other $30,000 to $50,000 for the nec­es­sary per­mits. Luke’s Legacy was set up to help them be­come es­tab­lished on their own.

This past year the trust also raised money through do­na­tions and cre­ative fi­nanc­ing to buy $1 mil­lion worth of scal­lops quota, or about 0.1 per­cent of each year’s fed­er­ally al­low­able catch. This trans­lates into about 17,000 pounds in 2017. The quota can be leased to lo­cal fish­er­men at a re­duced rate to help them keep their busi­nesses sta­ble and prof­itable, and hope­fully, it will mean more lo­cal scal­lops end up on Vine­yard ta­bles.

Next in the works is some sort of scal­lop-share pro­gram, so res­i­dents can buy in and take ad­van­tage of the lo­cally caught shell­fish.

“It’s just so ex­pen­sive to go fish­ing these days. It’s crazy,” says Ed­mund­son, who worked with many of the lo­cal fish­er­men, in­clud­ing Gur­ney, dur­ing her grad­u­ate re­search. She sees both the com­mer­cial and sci­en­tific value of pro­mot­ing a lo­cally sus­tain­able in­dus­try.

“Keep­ing the fish­er­men fish­ing is im­por­tant for so many over­ly­ing ar­eas: seafood for the com­mu­nity, sci­ence for the reg­u­la­tors and, es­pe­cially for the is­land, for the her­itage of the is­land. If we didn’t have fish­er­men, it would be re­ally sad.”

On a sunny Au­gust Thurs­day af­ter­noon, it was the fish­er­men who were in abun­dance on Dutcher Dock, in Men­emsha’s in­ner har­bor. Work­boats came from sev­eral of the other Vine­yard ports, and the clas­sic East­ern-rigged drag­ger Roann, built in the 1940s in Thomas­ton, Maine, and now berthed at Mystic Sea­port, paid a visit, along with Coast Guard and En­vi­ron­men­tal Po­lice boats. Tis­bury coun­try blues and Amer­i­cana folk band Good Night Louise played aboard the fish­ing boat Martha Eliz­a­beth, tied stern to at the pier. Ashore, a crowd took in net­mend­ing and scal­lop-shuck­ing con­tests, crab races and all sorts of in­ter­est­ing dis­plays de­signed to en­ter­tain and in­form.

It was the sort of by-hap­pen­stance af­ter­noon that could make a sum­mer va­ca­tion. And, in fact, it did.

Vine­yard fish­er­men square off to test who has the best net-mend­ing skills.

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