Concerned the Vineyard will be locked out of participation in a restored federal fishery, a small group of Island commercial fishermen went to a meeting of the New England Fishery Management Council last month to make their plea for some part of the future pie.
Today only one Island fisherman, Gregory Mayhew of Chilmark, is permitted to pursue cod, haddock and yellowtail in federal waters.
Federal waters are three miles and more south of the Vineyard, an area that was traditionally fished by local fishermen. His brother, Jonathan Mayhew, recently sold his federal permits, saying that fisheries management was against the Island family fisherman.
Twenty years ago, at least a dozen Vineyard fishermen caught cod in the winter. Today, those stocks are gone and with them the Island boats that fished them.
Further, fisheries managers, who have been slow to restore the fish stocks, have been reluctant to help small communities have a piece of the future fishery.
Now meetings are underway at the federal level to decide who will have access to fish once the stocks been restored.
“It looks like the Vineyard will be shut out,” said Tom Osmers. The West Tisbury shellfish constable and commercial fisherman has been leading a campaign to revive Island fishermen.
Earlier this week, Mr. Osmers said regulations as they now stand will bar Island fishermen from participating in a restored fishery.
So he is collecting letters and meeting with whoever he can find to advocate the revival of the Vineyard fishing community along with the fish stocks.
On Nov. 7, Mr. Osmers, along with a small group of fishermen and Tisbury selectman Tom Pachico, went to the New England Fishery Management Council meeting in Newport, R.I., to ask the council to take measures to keep the Vineyard involved.
“I listened for two hours,” Mr. Pachico said after returning. “The country is going the way of big business, away from small family business. The little farms have shifted to mechanized farming. We’ve lost the mom-and-pop stores in favor of Wal-Marts. The same thing is happening to the fishing industry. It is being run by corporations.”
Mr. Pachico said he went to the meeting to say that Vineyard fishermen still want to be a player in the waters around the Island. His grandfather was a fisherman who started John’s Fish Market in Vineyard Haven.
The Vineyard contingent included fishermen Jonathan Mayhew of Chilmark, Stephen F. Norberg of Edgartown and William (Buddy) Vanderhoop of Aquinnah. Jeremy Mayhew of Chilmark, a filmmaker, also attended and recorded the meeting on videotape.
The New England Fishery Management Council is one of eight councils in the country overseeing the management of federal waters, which are beyond the three-mile state line.
The New England council oversees the once-productive Georges Bank, Gulf of Maine and waters south of the Vineyard and Nantucket.
Fish stocks for most species are at record lows. In an effort to bring back the fish, the council, with the urging of the U.S. Secretary of Commerce and the National Marine Fisheries Service, has pursued Draconian efforts to slash the number of fishing boats. They’ve also closed off thousands of square miles of ocean to fishing in order to protect juvenile fish and habitat. Researchers anticipate recovery of most of these stocks will take years.
Despite the drastic steps, the fisheries management climate is dour, as the council already has fallen behind deadlines to begin bringing back certain stocks by 2009.
Decisions being made now won’t take effect for years, but the pie already is being divided up. Mr. Osmers said fishermen who want to be a part of the future need to be involved now.
The council is in the midst of holding hearings about a management regime that will shift from limiting fishermen on how many days they can go fishing a year to a program that will hold groups of fishermen to annual catch limits.
Describing the proposed new sector management system, council member Rip Cunningham said: “We are trying to change the regulations so that fishermen are determining when they will go fishing, when they will take their fish to market. They will make the decisions based on business practices, rather than having the government regulate everything. If there was a Cape Cod and Islands hook sector, the fishermen would be driving their own bus.”
Sector allocation has been in operation since 2004. The Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen’s Association has proven the strategy to work. The association’s key policy analyst, John Pappalardo, is a big advocate of sector management and also council chairman.
“We are in a classic situation,” Mr. Pappalardo said. “We have the council charged with drafting management for the entire region and you have small communities with different needs. Martha’s Vineyard is not unique in their frustration.”
He said that the appearance of Mr. Pachico, a selectman, at the meeting was helpful in persuading council members that the Vineyard wants to be a part of the planning.
Even if the Vineyard has no presence in the working fleet and is not grandfathered into the future regime, Mr. Osmers said he is hopeful that something will happen to open it up. Sector management might be the answer.
“There is really no other freight train to jump on,” he said. “Sector management is the way to go. And it is the council’s final phase in determining access for the future.”
There are provisions in the Magnuson Stevens reauthorization act that stipulate that regulators have to be sensitive to small coastal communities. Menemsha is a perfect example.
Last April, Mr. Osmers delivered letters to the council from the Island towns of Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, Tisbury, West Tisbury and Chilmark. The letters uniformly ask the council to allow Vineyard fishermen to remain a player.
However, under the government’s terms, sectors are only open to fishermen who are currently federal permit holders and the Vineyard has but one fisherman, not enough to really do anything.
Big business already has moved into the application process for sectors. This summer the council received 19 applications for sectors, and nearly all of the applicants come from urban areas, such as Portland, New Bedford and Gloucester.
Even though the Vineyard might not qualify to have a sector, Jonathan Mayhew said: “Any system that they come up would be better than what they have now. Sector management has more potential for helping the smaller fishermen than the present system.”