The Chilmark shellfish industry can expect a bumper 2008 scallop season and a broader revitalization, given the early successes of its experimental shellfish propagation program launched last summer, town selectmen heard Tuesday.
The town’s shellfish propagation officer, Isaiah Scheffer, presented selectmen with a 34-page report of his work to date.
In their annual town meeting last April, Chilmark residents voted to create a five-member shellfish steering committee and to hire a full-time paid position of shellfish propagation officer in an effort to bolster the shellfish population and reinvigorate the lagging shellfish industry in town. They also voted to appropriate $15,000 to fund the first year of a five-year shellfish restoration plan.
Shortly after selectmen appointed the steering committee, the committee hired Mr. Scheffer. He began work in June and focused primarily on the scallop population. Over the course of the season, Mr. Scheffer set 200 spat bags to collect and grow seed scallops off of Schuer’s Dock, Chockers West Flat in Menemsha Pond, Lovey’s Cove and Muddy Cove in Nashaquitsa Pond.
By season’s end, he had collected roughly 40,000 seed from the bags. He told selectmen Tuesday he plans to place even more spat collectors in the same locations in the coming season.
In addition to the collectors, Mr. Scheffer experimented with growing scallop seed in spawning cages and in an upweller placed off the transient dock in Menemsha. He plans to use both methods again in the coming season.
While Mr. Scheffer tended to the seed throughout the summer, he also studied their predators, namely crabs. In the meeting Tuesday, Mr. Scheffer discussed with selectmen a proposal to hire a local fisherman in the coming season to trap crabs in an effort to curb the threat. Selectmen voiced their support of the proposal.
While efforts at spawning seed were successful, Island fishermen did not immediately see the benefit because the spawn was yet too small to harvest. Mr. Scheffer anticipates a strong scallop season this year as the scallop grow to a harvestable size.
On Tuesday, Mr. Scheffer floated a number of additional proposals by the board. He suggested future projects not focus solely on the scallop population but on oyster, quahog and steamers as well, and he outlined specific proposals for the upcoming season. Mr. Scheffer also plans to purchase a water quality testing device to monitor the health of town ponds.
In his report, Mr. Scheffer said the success of the first year of the program proved that a restoration program for town shellfish was feasible and vital. “Nothing really failed,” he told the board.
In turn, selectmen praised his efforts. “The nuts and bolts of how to grow scallops are in these pages,” board chairman Warren Doty said. They voiced support for the future proposals and also appointed Mr. Scheffer assistant shellfish constable in addition to his duties as propagation officer.
In other news, selectmen discussed the cost of parking tickets with town police chief Timothy Rich. The board voted to raise parking ticket fines from their current rates of $10 and $15 to a flat rate of $30.
The selectmen next meet at 7:30 p.m. on April 1 in town hall.