The commercial oyster season is underway, and the early reports from the Tisbury Great Pond in West Tisbury and Chilmark are good. Oyster fishermen in those towns are getting their daily limit, although the off-Island market is soft.
The retail price on Island fluctuates; this week wild oysters were selling for 50 cents apiece.
Mild weather in the Northeast this winter means oysters are plentiful in most places, which brings the price down, said Chilmark shellfish constable Isaiah Scheffer. Coastal ponds aren’t freezing, so a lot of oysters have been landed. “Even the cultivated oysters aren’t moving in the market so well. The whole market is soft,” Mr. Scheffer said.
Nevertheless, he said: “This is the best time to get them — right now.”
What a difference a year makes. There was no oyster harvest in Chilmark last year, only in West Tisbury.
Chilmark commercial fishermen began harvesting oysters on Dec. 5. They fish three days a week (Monday through Wednesday) and have a two-bushel limit per day. The recreational limit is half a bushel per week.
Mr. Scheffer said eight commercial fishermen are working the pond in Chilmark this winter.
One to three fishermen are oystering regularly on the West Tisbury side of the Great Pond, according to town shellfish constable Ray Gale. “We will probably have a much better market in March and April,” Mr. Gale predicted. He said the Tisbury Great Pond was opened to the sea in the first week of January, which meant a salty exchange with the sea (good for the oysters) but also a high water level (not so good for the fishermen).
Commercial fishermen may take two bushels a day and six bushels a week, and are allowed to fish three days of their own choosing, Monday through Friday. The system works well for the fishermen in the event of bad weather on any given day.“They can pick their days this year,” Mr. Gale said.
Recreational fishermen may take half a bushel a week in West Tisbury.
Mr. Gale said the quality of the shellfish is excellent this year. “These are cocktail-quality oysters. They are great looking when served on the half shell,” he said.
Locally-harvested oysters are sold at Edgartown Seafood and Menemsha Fish Market. Net Result in Vineyard Haven is currently closed.
Edgartown Great Pond will have no commercial season this year, shellfish constable Paul Bagnall said, although a small group of dedicated recreational fishermen are out on the pond.
Mr. Bagnall said many of the oysters on the Edgartown Great Pond are juveniles this year. But he too commented on the good health of the pond.
“I think Edgartown Great Pond is in better shape than it was 20 years ago,” Mr. Bagnall said. “In the 1990s, we had serious algae blooms. I think we are seeing the benefit of an upgraded sewer plant, we are being more aggressive about our openings to the sea. We’ve got a dredge working in the winter. I see eelgrass has rebounded,” he added. He also credited the work of Boo Bassett and others for their husbandry of the oyster resource.
The pond was opened to the sea in the first week of December and stayed open through the first week of January. “It was a healthy opening, helped a lot by the Edgartown Great Pond Foundation’s dredging of what I call the delta,” Mr. Bagnall said.