The Patrick administration announced a program late last week to make small business loans available to fishermen who have been hurt by the failure of the groundfishing industry. The news that money would be made available comes about a year after the U.S. Commerce Department formally declared the New England groundfishery a federal disaster. Former U.S. Sen. William (Mo) Cowan, a member of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, pushed for the program that will make loans of up to two million dollars available to small fishermen.
The money comes too late for the two Islands, which are not even included in the loan program since the groundfishing fleet has all but closed up shop here in recent years. The lone groundfishing permit left on the Vineyard belongs to the Mayhew family in Chilmark.
But the sight of rusted draggers in Menemsha harbor masks a more hopeful tale of Vineyard fishermen who have shifted their efforts to aquaculture and the inshore fishery, and we hope these enterprising small businessmen and women get at least as much consideration when federal loans are being handed out.
A blue mussel project off the north shore that began as a pilot program just a few years ago is now a small business success and set for possible expansion by the two young fishermen who founded it. An experimental project to grow winter flounder in Nashaquitsa Pond in Chilmark is entering its third year. Oyster farms are thriving from Katama Bay to Menemsha Pond. And the bay scallop industry, while not back to the glory days of twenty years ago, continues to provide a steady income for a small band of hardy fishermen.
Whether or not the groundfishery rebounds here or elsewhere, there is still a healthy seafood industry and a new breed of commercial fishermen that deserve to be encouraged and rewarded.