The Vineyard bay scallop season is underway and the news is mostly good for local consumers and commercial fishermen alike. Chilmark is having one of its best seasons in years; Edgartown is having one of its worst. Oak Bluffs and Tisbury are doing fine and on Monday another banner year is set to open in Aquinnah.
Though not every commercial bay scalloper is happy about the effort required to earn a day’s pay, the very fact that there is employment on the ponds is good enough for some out-of-work carpenters who have traded their tool belts for foul weather gear. As for consumers, at $18 a pound, the price of scallops compares favorably with the mainland; yesterday the Chatham Fish and Lobster Co. in Chatham was charging $24.99 a pound retail for Nantucket bay scallops.
When the commercial bay scalloping season opened in Chilmark on Nov. 3, there were 25 boats out on the ponds. It didn’t take them long to get their limit.
“It was a good first day,” said Isaiah Scheffer, the town’s new shellfish constable. For a year prior, Mr. Scheffer worked for the town as a shellfish propagation officer and now he oversees all shellfishing in town. “I knew it was going to be good season. Last summer I was out there. Quitsa Pond was amazing,” he said.
One pair of scallopers that went out early reportedly got four bushels in just under two tows. The Chilmark daily limit is two mounded bushels per fisherman. Mr. Scheffer said the scallops are large, cutting out at close to nine pounds a bushel. At a wholesale rate of $13 to $15 a pound, that means a fisherman can make about $104 a bushel.
Nantucket scallopers are reportedly getting $11 a pound.
The commercial scallop season in Aquinnah opens on Monday. Shellfish constable Brian (Chip) Vanderhoop predicted landings could be as good as last year, which saw 3,378 bushels of scallops landed. He said he is expecting 20 commercial fishermen to head out early on Monday morning. The recreational season began Oct. 1.
West Tisbury has no bay scallops.
Down-Island, Edgartown is faring poorly compared to past years, while Oak Bluffs and Tisbury are doing a bit better.
Tisbury shellfish constable Derek Cimeno said 30 commercial bay scallopers were out on Monday, Oct. 27, the first day of the season in Lagoon Pond. There are 700 recreational shellfishermen. “Last year we had 18 commercial fishermen out on opening day,” he said, adding:
“They get their limit in four or five hours. There is a lot of wool and grass out there but they are getting their limit.” The daily limit in Tisbury is three level bushels.
Mr. Cimeno estimates that 1,400 bushels have been harvested already by commercial and family fishermen. There are also bay scallops in the outer harbor and in Lake Tashmoo. “First choice is Lagoon Pond,” Mr. Cimeno said.
Oak Bluffs may do as well as last year or better, shellfish constable David Grunden predicted. He said there are 22 commercial bay scallopers, up from last year. But Mr. Grunden said the number may have more to do with the recession than an abundance of shellfish. The best news: more bay scallops are being found in Sengekontacket Pond.
Oak Bluffs scallops are cutting out at six and a half to seven pounds per bushel. The commercial limit is three struck bushels. Mr. Grunden said he hopes to see 1,000 bushels landed. Last year, fishermen landed 1,118 bushels.
Edgartown, which once topped the state in bay scallop landings, is lagging this year. Assistant shellfish constable Warren Gaines said the ponds are full of seed but not many adult scallops.
At its regular meeting on Tuesday, the Edgartown shellfish committee will consider recommending that selectmen close Cape Pogue Pond to scalloping for the remainder of the season to protect that seed. Bay scallops have a short, two-year life cycle; seed refers to scallops that spawned this year.
“The only silver lining is that we have a lot of seed in a lot of different places,” said shellfish constable Paul Bagnall.
Opening day for the commercial bay scallop season began Nov. 3 with 25 boats, Mr. Bagnall said. “It wasn’t the 40 to 50 boats we used to have,” he said. “We have a small fleet. Only a few guys are left.” The commercial limit is three struck wash baskets a day.
And there are scallops in Anthier’s, the Edgartown end of Sengekontacket Pond. “It is a quality bay scallop,” Mr. Bagnall said. “The good news is that Sengie is loaded with scallops for next year,” he added.
Mr. Bagnall predicted a harvest of 2,000 bushels, and a quality year in 2009.
“What happened this summer was perfect for bay scallops. There are places that haven’t had bay scallops in years. Poucha Pond is one of them,” he said.
Credit for a rebounding bay scallop fishery goes partly to the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group, which each year provides juvenile bay scallops to the towns.
In 2007 the shellfish group distributed 13.5 million baby bay scallops to the four towns. Rick Karney, director of the shellfish group, now in its 32nd year, said the emphasis is on producing the seed. “All the towns are pretty much convinced that it is worth putting these animals in spawning sanctuaries, in cages. The intent is to give the brood stock a place out in the ponds so that they spawn,” he said.
Mr. Karney said technological advances have helped too, such as spat bags which are now made of material that acts like artificial eel grass but keeps seed scallops safe from predators. There is also a predator control program to catch predators such as crabs that feed on juvenile bay scallops.
Likewise, Mr. Vanderhoop said the bay scallop revival in Aquinnah can be partly tracked to the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) federally funded bay scallop restoration program. Mr. Vanderhoop also praised the working relationship with the shellfish group. “They do a good job,” he said.
Bay scallop fisheries appear to be improving along the eastern seaboard in places where they had all but disappeared, including on Cape Cod and Long Island.
Louis Larsen, who owns the Net Result Fish Market in Vineyard Haven, said a rebounding fishery on the mainland is partly responsible for lower prices here.
“The mainland wholesaler that last year wanted 400 pounds every other day is now asking for 100 pounds every other day,” he said, adding: “It is a hard push. Bay scallops aren’t a cheap item.”
He speculated that with colder weather ahead, the demand for bay scallops will increase. “Later is better,” Mr. Larsen said.
That may be true for shellfishermen. But for consumers, this is a good time to buy.