In a place where generations of fishermen have hawked their seafood, fathers and sons yearly descend to cast lines off the jetty and summer crowds have applauded the glow of a setting sun, the news is out: Stand by for the sale of a landmark Island fish market.
Chilmark selectmen heard plans Tuesday night for the sale of Poole's Fish, which has operated on Dutcher Dock along Menemsha Basin since 1945. It is expected to become the property of Stanley Larsen, a cousin of the family which owns the competing Larsen's market next door.
Both parties said they expect to finalize the sale within weeks, and the selectmen approved a one-year lease of the Poole building to Mr. Larsen, contingent upon the sale. Mr. Larsen will rename the business Menemsha Fish Market.
A dozen men in their snow-caked boots trudged into the old Menemsha schoolhouse to bear witness to the news. Among them were Everett Poole, the iconic bearded fisherman who started the family market when he was 13; his son, Donald, who took it over in 1995, and Stanley Larsen.
With no dissension and only careful praise for Mr. Larsen's work ethic, the mood Tuesday was both polite and somber. Everett Poole sat in silence, his arms folded across his chest as Mr. Larsen announced that he plans to make his first business both a retail market for fish and a wholesale resource for Island fishermen.
Mr. Larsen said he hopes to have the market newly painted and open by the end of April as a year-round facility.
"I plan to take in live shellfish and hold them," Mr. Larsen added at the meeting. "I will spawn them and release them. There will be seafood coming in and seafood going out."
Mr. Larsen, who is also the Chilmark shellfish constable, said he hopes his business will benefit both fishermen in town who struggle to find local markets, and the ponds - Quitsa and Menemsha - which will be the recipients of the scallops and quahaugs he releases.
He added that he would like Menemsha Fish Market to provide an opportunity for Chilmark schoolchildren to learn about aquaculture.
When the deal is final, Mr. Larsen's current lot on the Menemsha waterfront, which he uses for storage of gear and shellfish propagation equipment, will become vacant. Selectman Warren Doty noted that any application for the vacated lot must go through the park and recreation department, as well the selectmen.
Several Chilmark residents spoke optimistically of Mr. Larsen's plans. "I would like to see Menemsha remain a viable fishing community, and to see it successful would be nice," said Greg Mayhew. Referring to the dearth of Island outlets for commercial fishing, he added, "There is concern about getting product off-Island. [This] could be a benefit for us all."
The selectmen raised two concerns about the new endeavor. One was about time management and Mr. Larsen's ability to manage both the new business and its employees along with shellfish conservation and protection in the town.
Rick Karney, director of the Martha's Vineyard Shellfish Group, said that he has worked with Mr. Larsen and doesn't see a conflict. He added he would have to be "on No-Doz," an over-the-counter caffeine pill.
Alex Preston, chairman of the selectmen, inquired lightly as to whether Mr. Larsen will continue his painting business on the side.
"You need something painted?" Mr. Larsen responded.
Joking aside, Mr. Mayhew voiced confidence in Mr. Larsen's ability to multi-task, comparing him to his onetime family rival. "I think Stanley can do it. Remember, Everett Poole was a harbor master, [and] ran a gas station and a fish market."
Mr. Mayhew acknowledged that the first year of a new business is inherently stressful and risky, but said that he thought Mr. Larsen would be up to the task.
The selectmen also voiced concern over whether Mr. Larsen's simultaneous duties as a shellfish warden and buyer might pose a conflict of interest. "Both town and shellfish business would be happening inside the fish market," Mr. Preston said, opening up the issue for discussion.
Dan Bryant, an avid recreational fisherman, seemed to speak for the group, saying he didn't see it as a problem.
Mr. Larsen, who has served as shellfish constable for 15 years, was most recently appointed in November of 2003. He said he is eager to continue his duties on behalf of the town.
"I like doing it," he said after the meeting. "I like combining conservation, environmental and industrial parts of the fishing business. I want to keep the heritage and history of this industry alive - buying, shipping and selling fish. When everything is built up that can be built up here, everyone will have to turn back to the sea."
Mr. Larsen will join his three cousins, each of whom owns an Island fish market, in the business. Betsy Larsen operates Larsen's Fish Market on Dutcher Dock; her brother Louis operates The Net Result in Tisbury, and Dan operates Edgartown Seafood Market. Mr. Larsen said his brother Karsten may work with him on the wholesale end of the new market.
The market will continue to sit on town property, as do all waterfront businesses along Dutcher Dock. The sale would grant Mr. Larsen the building, not the land. Technically, the selectmen grant yearlong leases to owners. The department of parks and recreation then oversees their activities. Dutcher Dock businesses are expected to contribute to commercial fishing. The spirit of this law extends to the products the fish markets sell: Raw and cooked seafood are permitted, hamburgers and French fries are not.
Donald Poole, once the sale goes through, will leave a business he managed for a generation and owned for nearly 10 years. He departed the meeting quietly with his father as soon as the selectmen finished the discussion. He said by telephone the next day of Mr. Larsen's plans, "I hope that Stanley will be giving fishermen a place to sell their product. He's taking another leap." Mr. Poole declined to discuss his own plans until the sale is final. Everett Poole also declined to comment.
The Poole name has been synonymous with fishing on the Vineyard for more than a century.
Three generations of Pooles remain on-Island since the death, in 1984, of Capt. LeMar Donald Poole. Captain Poole, long recognizable on the waterfront for the pipe between his teeth and the golden hoop through his ear, grew up fishing during school vacations. Eventually he committed to it full-time, sailing to the Grand Banks to do his own high-lining for swordfish on his father's green boat.
When his only son, Everett, started Poole's in the 1940s, there hadn't been a fish market at Menemsha since before the 1938 hurricane washed away much of the dock. The market was a boon for the up-Island community, which had until then depended upon fishing captains for their sea produce. "Back then, the lobstermen sold their lobsters directly to the people," he recalled to the Gazette when he retired from the market in 1995.
Mr. Poole at first stored lobsters in a floating raft in the harbor. Soon after opening his market, he developed one of the first lobster tanks, using a pump from a fishing boat. The success of his saltwater pumps paralleled the burgeoning summer community's demand for lobsters.
In the 1970s, Everett Poole was a partner in a business called Menemsha Bites on the mainland which sold New England chowder and Island fish packaged at Poole's Fish. He shipped vacuum-packaged seafood to Nantucket, the mainland and restaurants in Europe. He also owned the Chilmark Chandlery, which sold fishing tackle and gear to Island retailers.
In an interview with the Gazette a few years before his death, Capt. Donald Poole recalled his family's life on the water, beginning with his days steering fishing boats, before he was big enough to see over the helm.
"Sometimes I almost wonder why God Almighty made the land, and the best reason I can think of is to separate the oceans," he said. "Can you think of any better way to make a living than at sea? But we're a little different from most people, I s'pose, those of us who go to sea all our lives."