A grant proposal to rejuvenate Island shellfishing was rejected in a nine-figure National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) stimulus program announced this week, and it is fair to say that Warren Doty, the Chilmark selectman who spearheaded the Vineyard bid, is somewhat miffed.
“There are no jobs for the little guys,” he told the Gazette. “Our proposal had $20-an-hour employees and a five per cent overhead. Meanwhile there was $8 million to Maine to build a dam and a big chunk of that goes to the contractor for their profits.”
The $125 million NOAA program, which is part of a national recovery stimulus package, awarded 50 projects across America and the territories, with the aim to create jobs and rejuvenate coastal zones and the Great Lakes.
“There were no shellfish projects in New England; the only grant in Massachusetts was a small grant for a fish passage in Brewster,” Mr. Doty said. “Why ask for shellfish proposals if you’re not going to award any of them?
“It’s very disappointing.”
Around five per cent of submitted projects ultimately received funding, with only those judged to have the most economic and environmental impact chosen from 800 proposals.
Mr. Doty theorized that the Vineyard may have been at a disadvantage due to a politically toxic perception of the Island as a haven for the rich.
“Maybe we had no chance from the beginning,” he said. He added that his gripe extended beyond Dukes County.
“What about New Bedford? I’m not just disappointed for us. The two Republican senators from Maine were crucial in passing the federal stimulus bill back in February and they got seven times more money than Massachusetts. That’s all I know, and maybe it’s just a coincidence . . . .” For her part, NOAA spokesperson Connie Barclay confirmed that NOAA employees only were involved in the three layers of review process and that there was no input from politicians.
Mr. Doty plans to take his proposal elsewhere, but finds the prospect of fund seeking daunting in the current economic climate.
“The only people with money are the federal government,” he said. “No one else has any; state and town governments are just trying to keep the services going that they already have. You have to think about that. It’s a great proposal; it’s Island-wise. I’d love to rework that grant and see where else we can go. I’m convinced it’s a great program and I already know we have people on the Island who can do the job well.”
The proposal put forward by the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish group called for $3.3 million to directly employ 20 staff and indirectly to help return Vineyard fishing to a 200-job industry.
Fishing communities have suffered across the country in recent years, faced with complex regulations and dropping fish populations, caused by overfishing and pollution.
Rick Karney, director of the shellfish group and co-author of the grant, remembers a far larger, healthier industry at work when he moved to the Island in the 1980s.
“Back not all that long ago there used to be three or more times the scallopers on the Island,” he said. “There was a big decline in the 1980s across the entire habitat.”