Capt. Wayne Iacono and a number of other Menemsha lobstermen are having a better autumn this year because of the help of a local draggerman, Capt. Craig Coutinho of the fishing boat Viking.
“If it wasn’t for Craig we’d all be in trouble,” Captain Iacono said.
Lobstermen depend on others to make a living. Few of them make their own pots, so someone else makes them. A few lobstermen are mechanics, but most of them rely on others to do the big service jobs on their boats. The availability of bait also is a big part of what makes a lobsterman successful, but this has been a tight summer.
“Bait is expensive,” said Captain Iacono, who lobsters in the 35-foot fishing boat Freedom. And scarcity has made bait even more expensive.
But a partnership now has arisen between a group of lobstermen and the captain of a Menemsha dragger.
Capt. Craig Coutinho, who operates the 40-foot wooden dragger Viking, has stepped in and is selling the fishermen skate bait. Captain Coutinho usually is a fluke fisherman in the summer, but that season closed a month ago. To keep the boat busy at least once a week and to keep some kind of cash flow going, he has taken up fishing for bait.
The lobstermen prefer skates and Captain Coutinho knows where to find them.
“It is the same as fishing for fluke,” Captain Coutinho said. The captain said he does catch fluke but he quickly throws them back into the water.
“There aren’t too many fluke around here now,” he said. “They’ve moved on.”
The captain charges $20 a box for the skates. “When I am fluking in the summer I get $15 a box [for skates],” the captain said.
There is another source for bait, but that is down-Island. Now that the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby is under way, fishermen are donating fish every day to the fillet program. And the waste — fish wrack, which includes the bones and head of the fish — is collected in barrels in Edgartown. At least one lobsterman is using that bait.
Captain Iacono recalled years ago when he, Herbert Hancock and Matt Poole used to collect the fish waste and use it for bait. But that was long ago.
Captain Iacono said the lobstermen do prefer skate, as it deteriorates more slowly in the lobster traps than what is offered at the derby headquarters.
Skate still are considered trash fish in these waters. But there are places in Europe where skates are served cooked.
Captain Iacono fishes for lobsters south of the Island, off Noman’s Land in waters near Cox’s Ledge, which is about 10 miles southwest of Aquinnah.
The lobster fishing season continues deep into October. “Some of the guys are bringing in their gear now,” said Captain Iacono.
It was a tough but good summer for the Menemsha lobstermen, the captain said.
The season started out nicely, not so much for the abundance of lobsters but because of the price paid to the fishermen at the dock.
Back in May fishermen got as much as $13 a pound for lobster, a record for the start of the season.
“That high price was super unusual,” he said. Captain Iacono said there was a scarcity of lobsters up in Maine and Europeans were buying.
But when supply increased, “things went down in June. I think everybody got $7 a pound in the summer,” he said.
The abundance of lobsters has been pretty much the same from year to year, but has declined over time.
“It is nothing like it used to be,” Captain Iacono said. “That is why everybody has two jobs.”
Lobsters at the start of the season also suffered from the shell rot disease. The lobsters are safe to eat but they look like they have shell sores and hence aren’t so attractive.
While last year there was a significant improvement in the appearance of the animals, this year the disease was back.
“We had 25 per cent, through June,” he said. When the lobsters shed, as they do every summer, they looked a lot better. The appearance of the disease dropped to 10 per cent.
“They do their main shed in June and July and then the shells look clean,” the captain said. “It takes another three months before it shows up again.”
Fuel this summer was pretty much the same as last year, $3 a gallon, the captain said.
In Edgartown, pot fishermen look for sea bass, scup, conch and a few other species.
Capt. Tom Turner of the 40-foot fishing boat Sea Raven fished for conch, sea bass and scup this summer in Nantucket Sound. The black sea bass season ended Sept. 3.
“I’d say the scup and sea bass season was about average,” Captain Turner said. “The price wasn’t terrible. Last year there were more fish and the price was less,” he said.
This year the opposite is almost true. There are fish to find and the price is okay.
Last year there was plenty of fog. This year there wasn’t. But Captain Turner observed that the weather was different in another way: “I’d say there was more of a northeast breeze than I’ve ever seen.”
It was a good summer for raising oysters in Katama Bay, according to Jack Blake of Sweet Neck Farm. And it was definitely a different summer than past years. With the Norton Point Beach opening to the sea, water currents are stronger in Katama Bay. Currents push through Edgartown Harbor in a way only the oldest of waterfront sailors can remember.
As Mr. Blake looks back over the summer, it wasn’t just the speed of the water that changed. He said his oysters grew slower this summer than in past years.
It takes an oyster at least three years to reach harvestable size in the wild. Cultured oysters, like Mr. Blake’s oysters, take less time. For years Mr. Blake could raise his oysters to harvestable size in 18 months. Judging by the last five months, Mr. Blake said it looks it now takes 24 months before an oyster reaches harvestable size. That is still a year less than if the animals were raised in the wild.
Mr. Blake attributes the change to cooler water in Katama Bay and different food in the water.
Oysters feed on algae and now that they are getting ocean currents running through the bay instead of tidal currents, they are all getting a different meal. Mr. Blake’s oysters taste saltier but look just as great as before.