Commercial scalloper drops his drag in Vineyard Haven harbor. — Mark Alan Lovewell

Early reports indicate a solid but not spectacular bay scalloping season on the Island this year, and shellfish constables report a healthy crop of seed for next year’s harvest.

Commercial scallopers are enjoying early success outside town harbors in Edgartown, Vineyard Haven, Chilmark and Oak Bluffs, and near-record opening prices of $18 per pound for their catch.

Shellfish constables are not expecting a banner year on the ponds.

“We’ll have a halfway decent year, I expect,” said Oak Bluffs shellfish constable David Grunden. In 2006, Oak Bluffs scallopers landed 1,016 struck (level) bushels, slightly more than 10,000 pounds. Between 650 and 700 licenses have been issued in Oak Bluffs, ninety-five per cent of them to recreational scallopers, Mr. Grunden said.

A bushel of scallops
yields plenty of tasty dinners. — Mark Alan Lovewell

He said there isn’t much mystery to the harvest in Lagoon Pond. “We have a put and take harvest, We do not have a renewable scallop population at this point.“ Mr. Grunden said. Seed scallops are placed in the lagoon and then harvested by shellfishermen after they reach maturity. Scallops have a two-year life cycle.

The trick to raising healthy bay scallops is to understand how nature works and then get out of the way, Mr. Grunden said.

Bay scallopers work the outer harbor, Lagoon Pond channel, Vineyard Haven. — Mark Alan Lovewell

Shellfish experts know that healthy eel grass is essential for scallops to thrive, and to that end the Atlantic ecology division of the Environmental Protection Agency has identified bottom sediment sand grain size and compaction as key elements for healthy eel grass.

The ecology division has been analyzing and photographing the bottom of Lagoon Pond as part of a project aimed at restoring the bay scallop fishery. “They will be returning with an underwater vehicle in November and again next spring to continue the analysis,” Mr. Grunden said.

While the edges of Lagoon Pond still have some healthy eel grass areas, the middle does not; the decline in eel grass beds is believed to be due to increased nitrogen in the pond.

In Tisbury, most of the 18 commercial scallopers have been back from their work in the outer harbor by 9 a.m.; the daily limit in that town this year is three struck bushels, a harvest worth $540 per day at current market rates. About 500 family licenses have been issued with 100 more expected.

Tisbury ponds open tomorrow for recreational fishing, with Lagoon and Tashmoo Ponds expected to draw the most attention from scallopers. The commercial season opens Monday in Tisbury ponds.

Diver collects scallops in Sengekontacket Pond. — Mark Alan Lovewell

Tisbury led the state in bay scallop landings last year, with 6,269 bushels harvested. “This year will be a decent year but not like last year,” Tisbury shellfish constable Derek Cimeno predicted. “Halfway through the second week, we’ve recorded 100 bushels from the harbor,” he said.

Lagoon Pond also opens Saturday for family scalloping in Oak Bluffs. Commercial scalloping in the lagoon begins Nov. 5 for both towns.

Mr. Cimeno advises scallopers to be cautious in caring for seed scallops which are more abundant and more spread out this year. “After fishermen drag, they should return the juveniles to deep water as quickly as possible,” he said, noting that shallow water makes juvenile scallops easy prey for birds and finned predators.

In fact, Mr. Cimeno urged families to scallop in the outer harbor. “I know it’s not traditional for families to fish outside but in front of the seawall and by the bridge should be good this time of year and it’s not as intimidating,” he said, adding that scalloping in Lake Tashmoo at Lake street should also be good. A designated dip netting area has been set aside for family scalloping at the bottom of Skiff avenue in the Lagoon. “That should be a good fishing spot,” Mr. Cimeno said.

In Chilmark, constable Stanley Larsen reported that some families are taking their limit in Menemsha harbor. “It’s taking a little while because there is a lot of seaweed,” he said. Scalloping seems to be best at the point where the channel and harbor meet, he said.

Eight commercial boats began working Menemsha Pond in Chilmark on opening day yesterday, Mr. Larsen said.

Mark Alan Lovewell

He expects a strong season for the fourth consecutive year, mirroring 2006 when commercial boats worked until the last day and in 2005 when the season was extended for two weeks.

Quitsa Pond remains closed to protect seed scallops. Mr. Larsen said despite 15 years of effort to grow scallops, Quitsa has remained unproductive. “There’s plenty of eel grass in Quitsa, it’s the bottom of the food chain that is dying and can’t nourish the scallop seed,” he said.

Aquinnah has not yet set dates for scallop season. The town usually waits until later in the season.

Commercial scalloping in Edgartown opened yesterday on town ponds. Shellfish constable Paul Bagnall said he is expecting yields to be “a little better than last year, certainly not a record. The good news is that there is a lot of seed around so next year could be good.”

He reported that eight commercial boats began working, all on Cape Pogue, yesterday morning. Family scalloping began in Edgartown on Oct. 1

Mr. Bagnall said the town has issued between 600 and 700 recreational licenses and about 50 commercial licenses. He expects to see about 30 commercial fishermen bring in daily limits of three ten-gallon baskets.

All ponds are open in Edgartown except Eel Pond, which may reopen later in the season, Mr. Bagnall said.

In Edgartown, family and commercial scallopers landed 1,200 bushels last year. Mr. Bagnall expects this year will be a little better than last and like his colleagues in other towns, he noted that the presence of seed presages a good harvest in 2008. “Having seed doesn’t necessarily mean a good harvest. We need to take care of it”, Mr. Bagnall said, urging scallopers to return seed to deep water.

He also noted that the bay scallop fishery has a long way to go to return to its former days of bounty. “We catch in a week what we used to catch in a day 50 years ago,” he said.