When he was a young boy, Peter Herrmann loved to fish off the Steamship wharf in Oak Bluffs. Before the first boat, and after the ferry stopped running for the winter, Mr. Herrmann and his friends would climb over the fence, fishing rods in hand.
“You used to catch every fish, you could catch fluke, scallop, the occasional tautog, sea robins, puffer fish . . . there used to be an abundance of them, but the best thing was bonito . . . bluefish and striped bass,” he said.
Thanks to a new fishing pier under construction off Sea View avenue, Mr. Hermann’s grandchildren will not have to resort to the same mischief to access that stretch of Nantucket Sound.
As early as this winter, they will be able to stand at the end of the 317-foot, L-shaped dock and cast their lines into the waters, perhaps raising the occasional bonito like their grandfather did some decades ago.
After seven years of pondering, planning and permitting the state-funded project, the $1 million Oak Bluffs fishing pier is slated for completion Oct. 30. What’s promised to be a family-friendly, wheelchair-accessible fishing pier, the first of its kind on the Island, is 60 per cent complete, and a few months behind schedule. Construction stopped during the summer months, due to town prohibition, but work has since resumed. The L-piece, which will point toward the harbor and away from the steamship dock, has yet to be set, and the 10-foot-wide access ramp that connects the street with the pier has yet to be finished. In July, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission approved an elevation increase to the pier, intended to better protect the structure from storm damage.
Members of the fishing community await the project’s completion with bated breath.
Dave Nash, an Edgartown fisherman, did not grow up fishing on the Island, but he has advocated for the pier on behalf of the Surfcasters Association for years. “What got me going on this project, was talking to people who grew up fishing and swimming on the Steamship pier,” he explained. When they were forced to close their pier to fishing for insurance and security reasons, the Steamship hatched the idea to open a recreational pier nearby. “They were looking to try to compensate for that,” said Doug Cameron, assistant director of the state Department of Fishing and Boating Access, the agency that has overseen the project.
Mr. Cameron has worked with the community on the project almost from day one, and he’s anxious to see it through. “It’s kind of exciting,” he said. “Based on the newest public hearings, there seemed to be a very strong desire for this pier, for kids, for older people, for people with disabilities, for injured people . . . to think that you can be involved in a project that people can enjoy, it’s kind of a good thing.”
Fishing enthusiasts say the pier will allow the very young, the elderly and the disabled to participate in the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby to a greater degree than before. Unlike jetties that aren’t very safe for children, the new pier will feature an aluminum cable handrail and a level standing area, Mr. Nash said. He doesn’t expect it to become the “mecca” of fishing for Martha’s Vineyard, he said, but it will provide a beautiful view looking back at town and at the harbor to the left.
Still, not everyone will be celebrating when construction is complete. The project has met opposition from North Bluff residents who fear the pier will bring unwanted nighttime activity to their neighborhood and obstruct their access to the beach. During public hearings held in 2010, neighbors protested the pier’s proximity to their homes and asked the state to consider a different location.
The pier juts off Sea View avenue at the Lookout Tavern about 200 feet from the Steamship dock. The horizontal beams are yellow pine, and the decking is ipe, a hardwood. At low tide, the water is 10 feet deep at the end of the pier. Mr. Herrmann’s only complaint is that the dock does not extend out far enough.
But it will do, he says, especially once seaweed begins to grow around the pilings. “I will take my grandkids there, they are so into fishing,” he said. “I will take them there.”