In their continuing effort to support local commercial fishermen, Chilmark selectmen want to better define such fishermen in the town.

At stake is who qualifies for Menemsha perks in matters such as dock space and fuel prices - and who doesn't.

Although the town already has a definition of commercial fishermen, Chilmark officials say few if any residents now would qualify. Hence their interest in crafting a more realistic definition that better describes the town's current commercial fishermen.

Many commercial fishermen no longer earn their livelihood solely through fishing. More and more supplement their income by doing other trades, such as carpentry and plumbing, in the off-season.

J.B. Riggs Parker, chairman of the selectmen, said the purpose of the process is to define commercial fishermen in a manner that can't be too loosely interpreted.

"You want to encourage commercial fishermen but we don't want to make our public areas available to those who don't meet a reasonable definition."

At the same time, Mr. Parker said, the selectmen don't want to keep legitimate fishermen from qualifying by making the definition too narrow.

At present, commercial fishermen get a discount at Menemsha Texaco on fuel. They get free dockage at the Menemsha bulkhead. Commercial fishermen also get to enter into agreements with the town to lease lots and buildings on the Menemsha waterfront.

Menemsha, the Island's smallest harbor, is besieged each summer by commercial and recreational boaters looking for dockage and services. Selectmen say they hope a careful definition can keep commercial fishermen viable in the town and keep them from being run out of the harbor.

Selectmen propose to bring to town meeting in the spring an article that would give the selectmen the authority to define commercial fisherman. The definition would be reviewed and available for comment.

The selectmen aren't yet in agreement on the terms of how a commercial fisherman might be defined.

Their proposal, which may be changed, calls for a fisherman to demonstrate that he at least makes six landings per month in at least three different calendar months, and that his landings must total at least $5,000. Another condition is that a fisherman must fish for a substantial period of time in a year.

The selectmen have sent the proposal to the town's harbor advisory committee and the newly formed shellfish restoration committee for comment. So far response has been light.

Longtime Chilmark fish buyer Everett H. Poole has his own thoughts. While he supports the idea of selectmen coming up with an annual definition, he expressed concern about how that definition is established.

"I spent 55 years buying from the local fishermen and trying to make sure nobody knew what everybody else was catching," Mr. Poole said. "It is personal business. I don't think catch reports or dollar volume should be reported. This is too small a town."

Selectman Warren Doty echoed the same concern at a recent meeting.

Mr. Parker said he'd like to see some consensus on the terms so that this issue can be resolved. He said the selectmen have already been involved in trying to help in other ways.

Last winter, there was a lengthy discussion and some degree of resolution over making sure that local fish markets are buying product from the local fishermen at the Menemsha dock.

An effort now has been launched to revitalize the town's shellfish department to include articles for next spring's annual town meeting that would include the establishment of a shellfish propagation committee, a new full-time position of shellfish propagation officer and the purchase of equipment.

And recently the town has stepped forward to explore whether a blue mussel shellfish farm can be established in town waters offshore.

Of the definition of commercial fisherman, Mr. Parker said: "We are trying to do this with deliberate speed, but we also want to get it right."