Sometime this summer, Vineyarders will have another opportunity to buy freshly-harvested blue mussels from Vineyard Sound. The forecast is even better for the year 2012, if all goes according to plan for Menemsha fishermen Alec Gale and Tim Broderick.
The two men have big plans. They have been working with the town of Chilmark, the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group and others on an experimental blue mussel farm off the north shore of the Vineyard.
Last year they harvested and sent 2,000 pounds of blue mussels to market for the first time.
Mr. Gale said this week the response from consumers was positive and they are now taking the next step. The first step was to see if they could raise blue mussels in Island waters without an infestation of pea crabs. Because their mussels are raised on lines suspended in the water column that never touch the bottom, nearly all the shellfish are clean, with no crabs.
Mr. Broderick said the second step is to work out better methods for raising and harvesting the mussels.
And the third step will begin later this year, when they seek to maximize production. It takes from nine to eleven months for a blue mussel to reach marketable size.
They now have a 500-foot line loaded with blue mussels. The line is off Cape Higgon in Vineyard Sound, and the two men are going through a permit process to expand their area for raising mussels. Their proposal for 10 more lines below the surface is under review by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Early last year, Mr. Gale bought a 50-foot aluminum catamaran called Shearwater. The vessel, built in 1993, was once used for whale watching. Mr. Gale said it will take another year to refit her for tending the mussel farm, but when it is done it will be a perfect working platform. “She is a diamond in the rough,” Mr. Gale said.
Meanwhile, Mr. Gale continues to develop other enterprises related to his life as a waterman. This summer he will use a 55-foot offshore lobster boat that he acquired to run fish from Menemsha to Woods Hole for sale to wholesale markets. The boat named Retriever will be used for three jobs in the year ahead: transporting fish to market, sea clamming in winter and tending the blue mussel farm.
Mr. Broderick, 34, is the captain of the 55-foot wooden fishing boat Four Kids, an old shrimper from the South built in 1976. He plans to fish for fluke with her this year.
And together Mr. Gale and Mr. Broderick are planning a company around their central project — the offshore blue mussel farm. They are thinking of calling it Menemsha Mussel Company.
The two men have taken over a fish shack at Menemsha once used for storing live lobsters. They plan to put a commercial-size ice machine inside and hope to sell ice to commercial fishermen. Mr. Gale said there are at least 65 fishermen who could benefit from being able to buy ice on the waterfront. It’s all part of their business plan.
“There is a lot of room on the waterfront. I’d love to see myself working in Menemsha. It’s my office,” Mr. Gale said.