By MARK ALAN LOVEWELL
Rick Karney, director of the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group, returned last week from an international conference on invasive sea squirts, where he and one of his staff were both speakers and participants.
There has been plenty of discussion on the Vineyard about invasive foreign plants in the Island landscape; offshore, the ocean bottom and the water column are also in a state of change. New plants and animals are taking up residence in coastal waters that may have a long-term impact.
While there is little worry now about invasive sea squirts in Vineyard waters, there is plenty of worry on Georges Bank, where they have begun to wreak havoc on the farmed blue mussel fishery in the Canadian Maritimes.
Mr. Karney said he learned a lot at the conference, which was attended by about 100 people.
Mr. Karney and his summer assistant Emma Green-Beach each gave talks on work that has been done at the Vineyard hatchery. “We collaborated with scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution,” Mr. Karney said.
He spoke about his work years ago to find a market for a sea squirt found in Vineyard waters, known to be a delicacy in Korea. “I gave a talk about the club sea squirt that is one of their traditional meals. It is considered an aphrodisiac,” Mr. Karney said.
Mr. Karney said he sought federal funding to do the necessary research. The effort was abandoned when no funding was found.
Ms. Green-Beach, a graduate student at Rutgers University, gave a talk on her research in August that centered on the behavior of bay scallops in the larval stage when surrounded by the sea squirt variety colonial tunicate genus Didemnum. The shellfish group received a $10,000 grant for the project.
The sea squirt is a sponge. There are many varieties around the world; one variety is spreading on Georges Bank at an alarming rate. According to a University of Connecticut Sea Grant report, in one 27-square mile area of Georges Bank, sea squirts cover from 50 to 90 per cent of the ocean floor.
Bay scallop larvae set on eel grass and other material in the water column but they clearly avoided setting on the sponge, Ms. Green-Beach found in her research project.
“We need to be a bit worried about these sea squirts. There are six to eight different varieties around here and almost all of them are from away. They are new to the ecosystem and we don’t know the impact they have on our future,” Mr. Karney said.
Up in the Prince Edward Island area, sea squirts are having a devastating impact on the $35 million a year blue mussel aquaculture industry. “It is bringing them to their knees,” Mr. Karney said. The sea creatures are fouling gear and crowding out cultured blue mussels grown on ropes.
Mr. Karney said he had an opportunity to visit an aquaculture site and see how the shellfish growers are coping.
Hatchery Photographs for Sale
The shellfish group not only has a presence on Lagoon Pond but also on the Web. Internet travelers can visit the hatchery online and find out about their programs and activities at mvshellfishgroup.org.
The hatchery has also made advances in underwater photography that may pique the interest of shoppers looking for interesting Island photographs.
Mr. Karney said the interest in shellfish photography began over a year ago when the hatchery received a new Leica EZ-4D digital microscope. The purchase of the device was funded by the Edey Foundation. Mr. Karney said they acquired the microscope as a way to improve the science at the hatchery and increase public awareness about the mission of the shellfish group. “The purpose was to help our outreach. We hoped to be able to take photographs of shellfish and share those images with others. We would post the photographs on the Web site,” he said.
People took an interest in the photographs that hatchery assistant manager Amandine Surier took with her own Olympus digital camera. Some said they wanted to buy the pictures.
As a result, many of her photographs are now available for sale through the Web site. All the money raised through the sale of the photographs goes to the nonprofit shellfish group.
Ms. Surier submitted one of her photographs of an adult bay scallop to a photo calendar contest hosted by organizers of the Northeast Aquaculture Conference and Exposition in Mystic, Conn. The photograph won first prize and was used on the cover of the calendar.
“We spawn shellfish and we always witness some pretty interesting events,” Ms. Surier said. “I tell my friends, you should come by for spawning days. Very few make it. I started taking pictures and doing little videos, just to share with family members.”
Ms. Surier exhibited some of her photographs at the Oak Bluffs Harbor Festival in June. “Dan Larsen of Edgartown Seafood came up to me and looked at a photograph. ‘This is great, I am buying it,’ he said.” She added: “This is fun and it reflects a different aspect of the job.”
Remembering Capt. Leonard Jason Sr.
The Vineyard fishing community was saddened this week by the death of Leonard Jason Sr., who died at the age of 92. Captain Jason, who was the former longtime shellfish constable in Chilmark, also owned the Menemsha dragger Little Lady.
And so this week in Menemsha there are two draggers named Little Lady. One is tied up at a dock and remains under the care of the Jason family. The second Little Lady is gone from view, out fishing in a place where old fishermen go when they die.
This other Little Lady is a better boat and under the constant care of her captain. The new boat doesn’t leak and doesn’t smell of yesterday’s catch. This Little Lady will forever smell of fresh paint and shine in days of constant sunlight. Her winch doesn’t squeak or jam under a heavy load. Her net drags show no evidence of ever being torn. There are plenty of fluke for the Little Lady and her captain, and no uncharted rocks on the bottom stand in her way.
“He was a wonderful supportive person in this waterfront community,” Mr. Karney recalled of Mr. Jason. “I remember he was down helping with the building of the first shellfish pilot hatchery. He volunteered to cut the wood, run the electrical lines. He believed in this program. He was a great guy and will sadly be missed.”