Several years of effort to restore the dwindling Island bay scallop population finally paid off this year; scallop landings Islandwide increased 23 per cent over the previous year.
“There are probably still millions of dollars of shellfish in Chilmark waters,” shellfish constable Stanley Larsen said this week. The town’s annual bay scallop harvest grew for the fourth straight year.
Edgartown, Chilmark and Aquinnah all had good years with the number of bay scallop landings up over last year. Results were even with the year before in Oak Bluffs.
Only Tisbury reported a decline in scallop harvest this year, although last year’s catch of 6,269 bushels was a record.
Most shellfish biologists agree the steady return of the scallop has occurred not as a whim of nature but from aggressive propagation and protection programs in recent years.
The bottom line is an Island commercial bay scallop industry worth more than $2.5 million this year. The impact on the Island economy is estimated at $10 million, using shellfishing industry formulas which multiply the value of the yield by related spending factors, according to Edgartown shellfish constable Paul Bagnall.
Commercial scallop landings were valued at more than $1.6 million, not including Islandwide license revenues of about $100,000.
The total commercial scallop harvest was 11,292 bushels, up 23 per cent from 9,163 bushels in 2006. Chilmark landed 600 bushels worth $108,000; Edgartown landed 4,326 bushels worth $485,000; Aquinnah landed 3,578 bushels worth $537,000; Tisbury landed 1,675 bushels worth $251,000 and Oak Bluffs landed 1,118 bushels worth $168,000. West Tisbury has no bay scallops.
In Edgartown Mr. Bagnall called the season mediocre despite the yield of 4,326 bushels, nearly double the 2006 catch. He noted that commercial licenses have dwindled along with the scallop population in recent years.
In Chilmark Mr. Larsen too noticed waning interest in the traditional Island way of life, which includes hanging up the hammer and putting away the landscaping tools to go out bay scalloping come November.
The commercial season runs generally from late November through March, although each town sets its own dates.
“A lot of scallopers switched to oystering in mid-January although there were still scallops to be had,” Mr. Larsen said.
“And we’ve had a decent quahaug business. Just three or four guys fishing but the season is open all year,” Mr. Bagnall said.
He said expanded seeding programs provided an additional 883 net bushels of scallop seed in Edgartown ponds.
Aquinnah shellfish constable Brian (Chip) Vanderhoop was also enthusiastic about the results of seeding programs in Menemsha Pond over the past three years.
“The sanctuary method works. We’ve reseeded and created sanctuaries in Menemsha Pond over the past three years, thanks to a $280,000 federal grant to the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) We learn something every time we create a sanctuary,” he said.
Bay scallop landings in Aquinnah were up 69 per cent this year over last year.
The Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group, led by longtime Island biologist Rick Karney, pioneered the bay scallop seeding program many years ago through its hatchery on the Lagoon Pond.
Nevertheless, bay scallops, which are prized for their quality and fetch high prices at market, remain fickle and are sensitive to pollution, predators and other changes in the marine environment.
“A few months of acid rain and ozone depletion can lead to a collapse,” Mr. Larsen said.