This weekend recreational fishermen will take to the shoreline with dip nets and peep sights to search for one of the most prized gifts of autumn. They'll be looking for dinner. In Oak Bluffs and Tisbury recreational shellfishermen will be able to fish Lagoon Pond. Their commercial counterparts will begin fishing on Monday.
The bay scallop season is now open.
The Vineyard and Nantucket are two of the last places where bay scallops are plentiful.
Edgartown, Tisbury and Oak Bluffs are expected see a good year for scalloping. Chilmark probably won't have a recreational or commercial season and Aquinnah is an unknown. West Tisbury has no bay scallops.
On Nantucket the recreational season opens this weekend; the commercial season opens on Monday. Last year, sister island shellfishermen landed 15,400 bushels; not much more than the combined Vineyard landings of 12,200 bushels.
"Everybody is anxious over here," said Dave Fronzuto, Nantucket marine superintendent. "We will probably have from 45 to 55 boats going out on Monday. We seem to have several good locations. They aren't concentrated in any one area. Last year was the fifth year we topped 15,000 bushels."
Edgartown shellfish constable Paul Bagnall said he expects to see 30 boats of varying sizes heading toward Cape Pogue on Monday morning when the commercial season opens. Cape Pogue is usually the Vineyard's biggest producer of bay scallops. Years ago, the pond produced 20,000 bushels. Last year in Cape Pogue 6,800 bushels were landed.
Predicting a bay scallop season is a little like predicting the weather - too many variables. "I don't think we will have a banner year, but the eel grass beds are doing well in Cape Pogue," Mr. Bagnall said.
Eel grass is synonymous with bay scallops, which depend on it for growth. Swimming larvae cling to the eel grass, and the juvenile bay scallops on the bottom use the eel grass as shelter from predators. Cape Pogue Pond is recovering from a crash in the bay scallop fishery and eel grass beds.
The news is somewhat less promising from Sengekontacket Pond - often called Anthier's Pond on the Edgartown side. "Sengie had a few bushels and they got mopped up. Most of the bay scallops were near Felix Neck and a few off the bridge. There is no eel grass in Sengekontacket," Mr. Bagnall said. There are a few eel grass beds at Majors Cove and off Felix Neck.
Last year Oak Bluffs had its best year in 10 with 2,110 bushels landed. The recreational season opened on Oct. 16 for all town waters other than Lagoon Pond. Shellfish constable David Grunden said shellfishermen have found a few in Sengekontacket. "Sengekontacket Pond is a put and take fishery. We put seed in the channel last year and that is where they found the adults this year. With the lack of eel grass and the lack of habitat, we are between a rock and a hard place," Mr. Grunden said.
Like his colleagues in other towns, Mr. Grunden is cautious about predicting a season. The recreational season opens tomorrow in Lagoon Pond. The commercial season opens on Monday.
"We went out last week and made a few tows," said Mr. Grunden. "There won't be as many as last year, but there will be enough for a good seasonal start."
This year one area at the end of Lagoon Road will be restricted to dip netters.
"Tomorrow is a lot like a holiday," said Tisbury shellfish constable Derek Cimeno. "It is festive. Everyone goes out and gets their limit. It is one of the rights of fall." Last year commercial and recreational shellfishermen landed 4,000 bushels of bay scallops in Tisbury, most of them from Lagoon Pond.
The west arm of the pond, near Maciel Marine, is closed to scalloping to protect next year's harvest. Mr. Cimeno said there is a lot of seed in that end of the pond. Seed are scallops less than a year old. It takes a scallop almost two years to reach harvest size. "The pond looks okay, but it is nothing like last year. I am optimistic. I think everyone will be able to go out and get their limit this weekend," Mr. Cimeno said.
Chilmark shellfish constable Stanley Larsen predicts another disappointing season. There will be no recreational or commercial bay scallop season this year, generating plenty of talk along the waterfront. Mr. Larsen said he believes the future of the bay scallop fishery will depend on a conscious community effort. Restoring bay scallops requires seeding, removing the predators that feed on the shellfish, promoting spawning and regulating the harvest.
Bay scallops disappeared from Long Island, N.Y. more than 30 years ago. They have almost disappeared from Cape Cod. Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard could be the last outpost for natural-set bay scallops.
Mr. Larsen said he looks to the Martha's Vineyard Shellfish Group, the Wampanoag tribe's new solar shellfish hatchery and the efforts of others to protect and restore the fishery. "There has been a lot of effort to bring back the bay scallop up and down the coast. It will take more practice. It is like growing a garden," he said. "A lot of effort has been put into it."
Shellfish group director Rick Karney has been raising bay scallop seed for the town for more than 27 years. "Culture is tied to local foods. By preserving the local food supply, you preserve the culture. The bay scallop is culturally at the top here," Mr. Karney said.
Mr. Karney and Rob Garrison of the Wampanoag tribe's hatchery recently attended a conference in Italy on preserving indigenous food supplies. The bay scallop is on top of their priority list.
Next month Mr. Karney and Mr. Grunden will attend a conference in New Hampshire to participate in a panel discussion on ways to restore the bay scallop. "The Martha's Vineyard Shellfish Group has been growing bay scallops in a hatchery for longer than anyone in the area. We've done it consistently," Mr. Karney said.
Mr. Karney and his staff are now working on a study to determine the effectiveness of raising and broadcasting junior shellfish. They will examine ways to ensure survival among cultivated scallops. This year Mr. Karney began raising purple and orange bay scallops; the genetic markers will allow marine biologists to track the scallops in the wild.
"Our role is to catch predators, move the seed around, but most of what happens to the bay scallop is up to Mother Nature. There are a lot of intangibles that determine a successful year," Mr. Cimeno said.