Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs shellfishermen saw a banner start to the bay scalloping season, and they share their reason why: Lagoon Pond.
Derek Cimeno, shellfish constable for Tisbury, is watching shellfishermen surrounded in bay scallops. "Six hundred bushels of bay scallops were taken in the first two days by family shellfishermen," Mr. Cimeno said.
The recreational scallop season in Lagoon Pond began on Saturday for both Oak Bluffs and Tisbury, and the fishermen turned out in force. In about the same time recreational shellfishermen in Oak Bluffs have landed at least 250 bushels.
On Monday morning there were 20 commercial fishermen at work on the Tisbury side of the pond. "This is the best year since 1998," Mr. Cimeno said. And that goes for Oak Bluffs as well.
David Grunden, shellfish constable for Oak Bluffs, isn't used to seeing a season this good. He has been shellfish constable for four years, so this is new. "Over 250 bushels of bay scallops were taken by recreational shellfishermen," Mr. Grunden said. On the Oak Bluffs side, 14 commercial shellfishermen were out fishing Lagoon Pond. A week earlier, the outside waters of Oak Bluffs were opened to bay scalloping, but only a handful of shellfishermen found bay scallops off East Chop. In the outer waters of Oak Bluffs, fishermen have a five-bushel limit.
Edgartown is doing nicely. The commercial start of the season began on Monday in Cape Pogue Pond, and the fishermen are expected to do as well as last year.
There were 40 to 45 limits taken from Monday through Wednesday, according to Paul Bagnall, shellfish constable in Edgartown. That translates to more than 120 bushels each day. Cape Pogue Pond is the Island's premier spot for bay scallops.
"Cape Pogue has beautiful scallops, as usual," said Edgartown harbor master Charlie Blair.
Chilmark doesn't have a commercial season. Aquinnah is weeks away from opening if they have a season at all.
The banner bay scallop story is Lagoon Pond.
This is good news for one of the most vulnerable coastal ponds on the Island. Last summer, the director of the Martha's Vineyard Shellfish Group, Rick Karney, reported poor water quality. There were large algae blooms and areas of the pond were low in oxygen, which is harmful to sea life.
Mr. Cimeno and Mr. Grunden are no less concerned about the future of the pond. There is too much nutrient loading. Last summer was a wet summer and rainwater brought nutrients into the pond.
The water quality was better in the summer of 2002, said Mr. Cimeno. "It was a nice June and July. It was dry," Mr. Cimeno said. There was no rain to wash fertilizers and other nutrient water into the pond. "There was a great natural set and much of it was up the pond," Mr. Cimeno said.
"There are a lot of reasons why we have a good year," Mr. Grunden said. "A lot less pollution from the roads and runoff and fertilizers entered the pond."
More bay scallops were spawned and survived in that summer. A bay scallop spawned in the summer is harvestable the following fall. Mr. Grunden said: "That is what we are harvesting now."
"We really have to protect the water quality of Lagoon Pond if we are going to keep harvesting bay scallops," Mr. Grunden said.
Mr. Grunden said there is evidence that Sengekontacket Pond has more bay scallops than in years past. "Maybe I am being hopeful," he said. It has been many years since Sengekontacket has had a productive bay scallop season. Mr. Grunden said scuba divers were finding bay scallops in deeper water in the pond.
For those who can't harvest them, they'll have to pay. The price of bay scallops at the retail market is around $15 a pound.
Shellfishermen are getting paid anywhere from $9 to $11 a pound for shucked shellfish.
The Cape Pogue scallop meats are coming out at around nine pounds a struck bushel: that's the amount of meat rendered after the shellfish are shucked.
Oak Bluffs scallops are coming out at between 7 1/2 and 8 pounds a struck bushel.
In Oak Bluffs, a family heaping bushel is 10 pounds.
On Nantucket, the scallop season is beginning much as it did last year. Dave Fronzuto, marine superintendent for Nantucket, said there were 42 boats going at 6:30 a.m. on Monday and they were pretty much all back at the dock by 10:30. "I read that as a good start. When I get my last boats in that early, we are off to a good start. Some of those boats, 25 of them are double-limit boats [which means two people are fishing]." Nantucket fishermen are limited to a take of five bushels per day.
Mr. Fronzuto said he is hearing local fishermen are being paid $10 a pound for bay scallop meats.
Louis Larsen of the Net Result buys scallops from the local fishermen and ships some of it to the mainland. "I will tell you the Cape doesn't have any. I am getting calls that they can't get anything out of Nantucket," Mr. Larsen said. "We are getting calls from Chatham. They should be able to take care of their own, but they are calling us."
Mr. Larsen said of the scallops he is seeing from fishermen in Oak Bluffs, Edgartown and Tisbury: "They are not a big eye size. They are a good size but not big."
Aquinnah is quiet. Brian (Chip) Vanderhoop, shellfish constable, said fishermen in his town haven't even started gearing up for the commercial season. He said his town's shellfish committee will meet next week to discuss a season. Aquinnah normally opens later than the rest of the towns, if it has any season at all.
One of the reasons for the late start has to do with the size of the bay scallops. Mr. Vanderhoop said the scallops are feeding as the water temperature gets colder. "They are trying to gain weight."
Last year, Aquinnah's 13 commercial bay scallopers harvested 2,300 bushels. The season started Nov. 18 and continued into the second week of April.
Safety is a big part of the Edgartown fishery this year. Mr. Blair said the shellfish department has a checklist on the number of shellfishermen fishing each day. They are making sure every boat is back. "It helps my department a lot," Mr. Blair said.
The scalloping skiffs leave from Edgartown harbor and it is a two-mile trip to Cape Pogue Pond. When the boats head out of the harbor they are checked and when they return later in the day they are checked. That way, nobody is missed.
Mr. Blair said in the past if there was a missing boat, they wouldn't find out until after dark. This way, if there is any boat missing they'll know at least an hour before daylight ends. "They all have to finish around 4 p.m.," Mr. Blair said.