When it comes to picking a good place to harvest bay scallops, Lagoon Pond might not be your first choice. Surrounded by homes and businesses, the pond lies between two busy towns in one of the most populated areas of the Island.
You might chose Cape Pogue or Menemsha Pond as the best spot to find thousands of bushels of bay scallops.
Yet in 2006, the Tisbury side of Lagoon Pond led the state for bay scallop landings with 6,269 bushels.
Derek Cimeno, who died last week at the age of 39, is largely responsible for this.
The young Tisbury shellfish constable, who began as an assistant constable in 1992, and took over the top post in February of 1997 after the retirement of the late Donald King, brought passion, enthusiasm and knowledge to the job. And he always wore a wide, youthful smile on his face.
You didn’t have to be in a conversation with Derek for very long before that smile broke out. It betrayed his absolute love for his work, which spanned many areas of marine biology.
He attacked the creatures that invaded the Lagoon Pond and ate his shellfish, including green crabs, starfish and conch.
He worked tirelessly with the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group, which operates a solar hatchery on the shore of Lagoon Pond.
In March of 2005, he was named Massachusetts shellfish constable of the year for 2004, the first Vineyard constable to earn the honor.
Derek’s work bridged the old and new ways of shellfish husbandry. Once called wardens, in earlier days shellfish constables were primarily involved in enforcement, checking fishermen to make sure they had the proper permits and were following the rules. And while that is still part of the work of a constable today, the job has become far more sophisticated and requires an understanding of marine biology and techniques for aquaculture.
Derek tackled every aspect of the job with gusto.
Whenever I called Derek on the phone to ask him questions for a story, or went out in his boat with him, he was in high spirits and full of chatter about what he and his colleagues were doing.
And his enthusiasm was not confined to his job as shellfish constable. Derek was a dedicated citizen of the Red Sox Nation and traveled to Florida for spring training whenever he could. And the Patriots? Ditto for the bleachers in Foxboro.
“I was born in Needham and we moved here when I was six months old. That is pretty close to being born here,” he told me in an interview after he was appointed shellfish constable in 1997. “I grew up not far from Lake Tashmoo and I have memories of quahaugging when I was a kid,” he said.
He loved to fish for striped bass with a rod and reel, but he preferred to eat fluke, said it was a better tasting fish.
About six years ago, he pushed hard for Tisbury’s participation in the Massachusetts Estuaries Project, arguing that it was critical to ensuring the future health of Lagoon Pond. Voters at town meeting agreed and approved $10,000, which was matched by Tisbury Waterways Inc.
About a decade ago he single-handedly worked for a herring run at the head of Lake Tashmoo and networked with a community to build it. The $16,000 project was underwritten by Tisbury Waterways and the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, among others. Herring are as essential to the health of a pond as shellfish; both feed on algae, he explained to elementary school children on an outing one day.
At heart Derek was a teacher. He took landlubbers out on the flats to show them how to harvest quahaugs, sometimes loaning them equipment and telling them where the best spots were. He made it special by saying he often doesn’t do that.
But he really did.
The truth is Derek Cimeno couldn’t help himself because he loved to share his boundless enthusiasm for shellfishing. He helped us all.