Opening day for the bay scallop season is as much a part of the Vineyard culture as any holiday. On Saturday, dozens of smiling Tisbury residents turned out in Lagoon Pond to harvest bushels of the tasty sweet bivalves, and they had little trouble finding them.
Holders of family recreational permits harvested 528 bushels last weekend. Those bay scallops would be valued between $40,000 and $50,000 if they were sold on the retail market.
Derek Cimeno, shellfish constable for Tisbury, said Wednesday he was pleased with the harvest, which he said looks to be larger than he had forecast initially. Right now, he added, it looks like the fishery might last until Thanksgiving.
Along the western side of Lagoon Pond, dip-netters appeared as little colorful spots not far from the shoreline. Each dip-netter towed a floating black inner tube with a basket inside. It didn't take them long to catch their family limit of one bushel. Some of the fishermen called back and forth.
The waters were again filled with fishermen on Monday, but this time, they were all commercial fishermen. Mr. Cimeno said holders of 13 of the 20 commercial permits issued were out on the water, in boats of varying size. Their bay scallops will be shucked and sold on the retail market for $12 to $15 per pound; each fisherman is limited to two heaping bushels a day.
On Wednesday morning, Mr. Cimeno and his assistant, constable Donald MacGillivray, were out surveying activity on the pond. Most commercial fishermen rise with the sun and are out on the water before 7 a.m., he said.
Anyone driving around the Vineyard Haven waterfront that early in the morning will find Maciel Marine docks as popular a meeting place as the local coffee shop. Men gather wearing their oilskins and compare notes before heading out to work.
They also gather at the town boat landing off Beach Road, near the drawbridge. "It is kind of festive," said Mr. Cimeno, describing the morning scene.
On Wednesday morning Albion (Beanie) Alley sat in his pickup truck parked at the boat landing, watching his friends out on the water. Mr. Alley went scalloping last weekend, but only recreationally. This is the first year in 31 years he is not going commercial bay scalloping.
Don Mitchell, 75, fished over the weekend in the old-fashioned manner, hand-hauling his drags from the bottom. His drags - a piece of Vineyard waterfront history - were crafted on the anvil of Edgartown blacksmith Orin Norton.
Mr. Mitchell has long-cherished memories of bay scalloping in town.
"I began scalloping when I was 17 years old," he said. "I always enjoyed going. I think of it as relaxing."
Years ago, many more Islanders relied on bay scallops for a living, as commercial fishermen worked well into the winter. The money earned paid the bills and put food on the table and Christmas presents under the tree. Those days are over.
Rick Karney, the director of the Martha's Vineyard Shellfish Group, sees both the negative and positive side of this year's bay scalloping season. While scallops in Vineyard waters are abundant compared to Cape Cod and Long Island, he said, it still would be nice if there were more.
Predators of bay scallops impact their numbers.
"We have cages protecting bay scallops at the hatchery," Mr. Karney said. "Recently we pulled them out of the water, and the outside of the cages were covered with green crabs. I haven't seen so many green crabs.
"It was surprising to me, they congregate where there are bay scallops," he said. "You can imagine that the natural set of bay scallops is getting attacked pretty heavily.
"If you talk to people on the Cape, they are reporting that it is nothing like it was 20 years ago," Mr. Karney added. "We all keep hoping that we are going to come out of this cycle, but we just don't see them coming back on the Cape."
Looking to the future, he said "There is a heavy set of seed in Chilmark and Oak Bluffs for the coming year. They have nothing now, but we hope that the crabs don't do a job on them for the next year."
Oak Bluffs and Chilmark are reporting poor harvests so far this year, but Edgartown shellfishermen are doing well. Aquinnah officials have not yet surveyed the ponds.
At least in Vineyard Haven, there is another way to find out how successful the scalloping season is.
At the foot of Skiff avenue there is an old gray scallop shed overlooking the pond, where Stuart Bangs manages a small shell heap that keeps growing daily. The bulk of the shells comes from Vineyard Haven fishermen who shuck their scallops, and almost every day this week Mr. Bangs raked and collected the shells and took them to his son's driveway.
Mr. Bangs bases his judgement on the size of the heap. "This far it indicates an average year," he said.