Lagoon Pond has millions of baby bay scallops. On Tuesday afternoon, David Grunden, shellfish constable for Oak Bluffs, was out moving some of them around. There is a gold mine of baby bay scallops out there. While this doesn't help the fishermen of today, it may be a sign of a good year to follow.
It takes a scallop two years to reach harvestable size. With the recreational and commercial season in Oak Bluffs and Tisbury only weeks away, Mr. Grunden and Tisbury shellfish constable Derek Cimeno are in an awkward position. They want to open the shellfish season this fall, but they don't want fishermen hurting next year's possible bumper crop.
The air was fresh, with an autumn chill. Along the shoreline of Lagoon Pond was evidence of color changes on the leaves at the tips of branches. Mr. Grunden ran his 21-foot Catalina shellfish boat over an area where the baby bay scallops could be seen from the surface. He dropped both drags into the water and towed for perhaps 20 feet. He pulled the drags aboard, and they were full of baby bay scallops amid the eel grass and codium.
There are at least two places on the Oak Bluffs side of Lagoon Pond where the scallops are this thick. There are a number of promising areas on the Tisbury side as well, he said.
The family recreational season opens in Oak Bluffs on Oct. 19. All the ponds are open except for Lagoon Pond. The commercial season opens Oct. 21 everywhere in town but Lagoon Pond, which means that bay scallopers can pursue their catch in Sengekontacket, off Harthaven and off East Chop.
Recreational fishermen have a limit of one heaping bushel per week. Commercial fishermen have a limit of three struck bushels per day.
Tisbury and Oak Bluffs have the same season when it comes to Lagoon Pond to prevent any conflicts that might arise over boundaries. The pond opens for recreational fishing Nov. 2. The commercial season opens in the pond Nov. 4.
An adult bay scallop is two or three inches in diameter. On Mr. Grunden's culling board, he sorts through two large piles of juvenile bay scallops. The baby scallops are about the size of a quarter. In the mix were only two or three adult bay scallops. This is where problems arise. Mr. Grunden wonders whether a shellfisherman will drag through a bed of baby bay scallops with the hope of harvesting one or two adults. In shellfisheries management that is bad news. It is well known that drags pulled against a bed of bay scallops will kill a lot of juveniles.
Mr. Grunden has been shellfish constable for two-and-a-half years, and he has never seen so many juvenile bay scallops in Lagoon Pond. "We hope that the fishermen will stay away from the areas where there is a high concentration of juvenile bay scallops," he said.
Mr. Grunden said he and Mr. Cimeno plan to make a serious pitch to shellfishermen to avoid bringing up the juvenile shellfish in their nets. There are several acres of bottom covered with juvenile shellfish, underscoring the point that Lagoon Pond remains one of the Island's truly viable shellfish producing ponds. By comparison, Sengekontacket Pond continues to suffer. There are no harvestable bay scallops in either the Edgartown or the Oak Bluffs side of Sengekontacket. Mr. Grunden points out that the reason is due to habitat. There just isn't enough eel grass for bay scallops to survive from one year to the next.
Efforts are under way to revitalize Sengekontacket Pond. Mr. Grunden learned last week that he has received funding for three significant projects in his department. He received $1,100 from the federal United States Department of Agriculture to hire someone to plant eel grass in Sengekontacket Pond. He said they plan to transplant the eel grass from Farm Pond to the bigger pond and monitor the success. The grant comes as part of a wildlife habitat incentive program.
Mr. Grunden also received a grant from the Coastal Zone Management to cover 75 per cent of the cost of purchasing a new four-stroke outboard motor to replace a two-stroke outboard. He already has one for his Carolina boat, but there is another shellfish boat.
He received $25,800 from Coastal Zone Management to study storm drains in Oak Bluffs and Tisbury. Road runoff is considered a serious threat to water quality. There is enough money to identify, do engineering and solve a storm drain runoff problem at a site in each of the two towns.
In Edgartown the recreational bay scallop season has already begun. Paul Bagnall, the shellfish constable for that town, said yesterday it has been a bit of a disappointment for those who fish with dip nets and waders in Cape Pogue Pond. Mr. Bagnall said that the shellfish are not as easy to catch as last year. A lot of the adults are in deeper water. "Those who snorkel are doing well," Mr. Bagnall said.
The commercial season opens on Monday, Oct. 28. There is a three-bushel limit per day and commercial fishing is allowed Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Recreational fishermen can start using drags in Cape Pogue Bay on Saturday, Oct. 26.
Mr. Bagnall thinks the bay scallopers will likely harvest about the same as last year, 9,383 bushels by both recreational and commercial fishermen.
Like his colleagues in Tisbury and Oak Bluffs, Mr. Bagnall is encouraged by what he sees for next year. "There is seed in Katama Bay and all through the harbor to Cape Pogue. The good news is that I am seeing seed at this time of year. Normally, I don't see next year's seed in any amount until later in the season," Mr. Bagnall said.
This week Mr. Cimeno acquired millions of juvenile bay scallops from Taylor Seafood in Fairhaven. The scallops were purchased to be distributed in Lake Tashmoo, where there hasn't been a commercial bay scallop season in years. Mr. Cimeno was assisted by Mike Syslo, the director of the Massachusetts Lobster Hatchery. Mr. Syslo had a boat, Roccus, assist in the delivery.
Chilmark is having a recreational bay scallop season. The family season opened on Oct. 2. The commercial season opens on Nov. 1. Stonewall and Nashaquitsa Ponds are limited to dip-netting and diving during the family season because of an abundance of seed in the pond. Shellfish constable Stanley Larsen came before the selectmen last month and expressed strong concerns about finding a way to protect next year's seed.
There will be some kind of bay scallop season in Aquinnah. Selectman Michael Hebert said yesterday that at the Aquinnah selectmen's meeting on Oct. 1, they agreed to direct the shellfish committee to come forward with a recommendation for the coming season. In the past, Aquinnah has opened later than the other Island towns. Mr. Hebert said the committee's report is expected on Oct. 15. "We are hoping for some kind of a season. Maybe it will be just enough for family, or maybe more. We will see."