By MARK ALAN LOVEWELL
Fishing boats are back out in Vineyard Sound, after what has been a long stretch of really bad weather, not just on the land, on the water.
The Menemsha fleet returned to fishing for fluke on Wednesday, after being kept shoreside since last weekend because of the wind.
“I haven’t fished for three days,” said Capt. Craig Coutinho of the Menemsha dragger Viking on Tuesday night. “The fluke fishing was going pretty good, before we got this.”
Captain Coutinho, 59, is one of Menemsha’s senior dragger fishermen. The Viking is a 40-foot dragger working its 80th year. The captain is the third generation Coutinho working the boat.
The commercial season for fluke, which opened on June 10, may be going too well. The state reports 200,000 pounds of fluke have already been landed statewide, almost 30 per cent of the year quota of 702,614 pounds. With that kind of effort, the fishery won’t stay open that long into July.
Capt. Everett H. Poole of Chilmark is readying his 27-foot lobster fishing boat Jini F. for launch. The captain said the bad weather has slowed his shoreside repair work, holding up his efforts to get the boat in the water. On Wednesday he said he is just waiting for two consecutive sunny days, and that has been almost too much to ask for this month.
Last winter he replaced the port side fuel tank, having replaced the starboard tank a year before. To do it, he had to open a part of the deck.
To reclose the deck, he needs two consecutive dry days.
Captain Poole said he is looking forward to going fluke fishing. “Two years ago I stopped lobstering on the backside of Noman’s. I lobster nearby where there are fluke. I fish until the tide slacks and the fish stop biting. When the fish stop biting, I would swing over to pull some lobster gear.”
The recreational season for fluke opens on Wednesday and it comes with a welcome. Any rod and reel angler who has been fishing off the bottom in Nantucket and Vineyard Sound already knows the fluke are here.
This is the first year recreational anglers are locked into the season and it is short. The recreational fluke season runs from July 1 to August 13. Anglers are limited to five fish per day and the minimum size is 18.5 inches.
Fluke are the locally caught catch of the day, when it comes to fish markets and restaurants. Fluke are a flat fish, a flounder. They are also called summer flounder and are highly prized when it comes to evening dinner plans. Their meat is white and tasty. The only other locally caught popular fish available for sale is bluefish, which for some is a bit too gamey. The secret to cooking bluefish is to get it as fresh as possible.
Though fishermen have been catching it for months, locally caught striped bass won’t be available in the local markets and restaurants until the commercial season opens on July 12.
Sergeant Matthew Bass of the state environmental police will begin working on the Vineyard next week. He replaces Sergeant Patrick K. Grady who has been assigned to the Island since August 2004.
Environmental police are charged with enforcing state and federal fisheries and hunting regulations. They also enforce environmental laws and have a presence on both the land and water.
Tisbury Great Pond
Chilmark shellfish constable Isaiah Scheffer is busy in the Tisbury Great Pond, preparing for the oyster spawning season. Mother Nature may be behind because of the long stretch of cool overcast days, but Mr. Scheffer said he is working hard to get ready for when the oysters spawn in the next month.
The Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group was able to secure grants totalling $16,000 to help the towns of West Tisbury and Chilmark in their program to step up the oyster fishery restoration effort. A total of $8,000 came from the Edey Foundation and another $8,000 came from the Menemsha Fisheries Development Fund. It is a labor-intensive effort. Mr. Scheffer said he is preparing oyster propagation bags that are loaded with oyster shells and bay scallop shells. The culch bags are about the size of a football. As the spawning season starts, the bags will give microscopic sized oyster larvae a place to attach. Once attached the oysters and the culch will be released on the bottom. Without the broken shells, the little creatures would have nothing to which to attach and would get lost in the silt and sandy bottom.
A key ingredient to the effort is tied to the great pond’s own oysters spawning and producing seed. Tisbury Great Pond is coming out of a tough couple of years, when dermo, a shellfish disease, nearly wiped out all of the pond’s oysters. The restoration is tied to the oysters’s own ability to come up with a disease-resistant strain.
Under the aggressive management program, the two towns took whatever steps they could to protect the oysters that are growing up in the pond, for they contain the genes necessary to resist the disease. Though the towns have allowed the harvest of oysters in the off-season, fishermen are required to release any of the largest adults they catch. The strategy is to protect the most productive producers of disease-resistant spawn. Big oysters have demonstrated their ability to survive the disease.
It is a mild version of genetic engineering. Protect the animals that survive and let nature take care of the animals that can’t survive. The fisheries managers hope every successive generation of oysters will be more resistant. They can’t get rid of the disease now that it is in Island ponds, but they can raise more hearty oysters that can resist it.
The program includes using a site in West Tisbury where the oysters are provided safe habitat, water tanks on the shore.
Rick Karney, director of the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group, said the work in Tisbury Great Pond is modeled after a similar project done in the aftermath of dermo in Edgartown Great Pond.
Mr. Scheffer said it is important to get animals into the pond and give juveniles every chance of becoming healthy, hearty animals. Mr. Scheffer said he hopes the pond will again support a productive and prolific oyster population.
Mr. Scheffer is also preparing for a season for husbanding quahaugs for the future. While the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group has been producing baby quahaugs by the millions, Mr. Scheffer said he has made eight quahaug rafts and they’ll be kept in Quitsa Pond. The rafts are like hotels and keep the juveniles off the bottom and in the food column. He plans on raising 100,000 quahaugs in each raft. As the shellfish get bigger they’ll be released.
The Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group has produced over 10 million baby quahaugs this season. Mr. Karney said they are each about a half-millimeter in size, about the size of a big grain of sand. The shellfish are being turned over to the Island’s shellfish constables for distribution.
Mr. Karney said the shellfish group hatchery in Lagoon Pond and the one on Chappaquiddick will begin spawning bay scallops in the weeks ahead.
A great part of the Island’s history has to do with whales. See them with your own eyes on July 14 with the Tisbury Travel Club. The four-hour cruise to Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary will include naturalist Jon Brink’s commentary on the history and wonder of whales in our area.
All ages are welcome to register for the trip — families included. The modern Whale Watcher all-aluminum monohull vessel has state of the art navigational technology and multiple communication systems, climate-controlled interior and cushioned seats, and outside viewing decks. Humpback, finback and minke whales are all currently sighted as well as pelagic birds, including shearwater and immature northern gannets. The cost is $71 per person and includes round-trip coach, cruise and lunch. To register and for more information, call Sandy at 508-696-4205.