Last Draggers in Menemsha

The Quitsa Strider II sits rusting at the dock in Menemsha. Her skipper Jonathan Mayhew, who has devoted his life to commercial fishing, has sold his days at sea. A Gloucester fishing cooperative has bought the permits that allow him to fish in federal waters.

Captain Mayhew, whose family has fished for centuries, can no longer make a go of it. Fuel costs are high. Federal regulators severely limit how often and where he can fish. Formerly bountiful fishing grounds on Georges Bank are bare compared with twenty years ago.

Mr. Mayhew blames the regulators, saying that they have mismanaged the fisheries for the past thirty years. “It is death by a thousand cuts,” he says.

He is right. And the era of the dragger may well be at an end.

But from some endings come beginnings. Chilmark selectmen are determined that Menemsha will survive as a commercial fishing port.

The selectmen are pursuing a variety of innovative approaches which include a pilot program using Menemsha Pond as an incubator for winter flounder and an offshore cultivated blue mussel project. A program to bring back the bay scallop fishery in Menemsha Pond is already under way. Picture a fleet of fifty boats working a variety of fisheries out of Menemsha for several weeks at a time, including bay scalloping and fluke fishing. A young fisherman could stand to earn sixty thousand dollars a year or more working this way — a decent living by Island standards.

This is the vision of the Chilmark selectmen, who vow that Menemsha is not destined to become a marina or a museum.

Their goals are admirable and well within reach. Menemsha is quiet these days, her last draggers tied to the dock. But the future is full of promise.