By MARK ALAN LOVEWELL
There is another fishing boat in Menemsha. The blue, 55-foot offshore lobsterboat Retriever belongs to Capt. Alec Gale and will be used by him to transport fish from Menemsha to the mainland. Retriever replaces his previous workboat, the Jane Lee, a Bruno Stillman 55.
Captain Gale hopes to begin transporting locally caught seafood to the mainland. It has been a long, quiet winter, and the season ahead will be especially busy. Retriever is a better boat for the trips to the mainland. She was built in 1982 and was brought up from Maryland for the job.
Mr. Gale said he hopes to start the season transporting fluke and scup to market. He said on Wednesday that he knows Gregory and Todd Mayhew on their dragger Unicorn have been out fishing for squid. He hopes to carry some of that to market.
The commercial fluke season began yesterday. Draggers are allowed a 300-pound daily trip limit. The minimum size is 14 inches. Hand line and rod and reel anglers are limited to 200 pounds a day. Fluke, also called summer flounder, is one of the top seafoods shipped to the mainland.
This could be a great season for fluke fishermen. The state quota has been increased over last year, to over 150,000 pounds. Warren Doty, Chilmark selectman and an expert on fluke, said that additional quota will mean a lot to the local fishermen. This year’s quota is 846,667 pounds.
Last year the fluke quota was met early in Massachusetts. The fluke fishery was closed August 12, even though there were plenty of fish around. Even the recreational fluke fishery was closed mid-August. “I think it will go two more weeks than last year,” Mr. Doty said of the commercial season.
The recreational fluke fishery opened this year on May 22 and will close on Sept. 6.
“There is a rebuilding schedule for the fluke fishery and we are on schedule,” Mr. Doty said. “The fluke fishery should be fully rebuilt in the year 2013,” he said. While many species of fish are in trouble, fluke are on the rebound.
Fluke is not the bread and butter of Mr. Gale’s transport business; that species comes later in the season.
The commercial striped bass season opens a month from now, on July 13.
There is also change on the waterfront where Mr. Gale puts his gear. He and his partner, Tim Broderick, another Chilmark fisherman, have taken ownership of Louis Larsen’s old lobster shack, which is between the Larsen’s Fish Market and the harbormaster’s shack. The building isn’t really that old; it may be one of the youngest buildings on the waterfront. But when Mr. Larsen had it built years ago, it had a purpose, the lobster fishing industry was doing well, and it was a good place to overnight lobsters before they went to mainland markets. In its day, the huge room inside was loaded with saltwater tanks bubbling away. On the waterfront it was known as “Louis’ Lobster Lounge,” a place where lobsters hung out for days. The lobsters awaited shipment to mainland markets.
Mr. Gale said he and Mr. Broderick were in need of a shoreside facility to run their growing wholesale seafood operation. They talked to Mr. Larsen, who runs the Net Result, a fish market in Vineyard Haven. The idea grew and they’ve got the support of a lot of the fishermen on the dock.
Mr. Gale said the building will have several purposes this summer. It will be used for making ice for the fishermen. “Carl Flanders will use it to store bait,” Mr. Gale said. Of the lobstermen, Mr. Gale said: “They’ve had no place to freeze their bait.”
Bait and fuel are the big expenses when it comes to the pot fishery, which includes lobster and conch and other fishing. The waterfront will benefit.
Mr. Larsen said this week he was happy to help the two men with the building. Last winter, when the talks began, Mr. Larsen said he hadn’t formulated a purpose for the building. When he heard that Mr. Gale and Mr. Broderick were considering building a new building on the waterfront, he thought hard about it.
“I hated the idea they might go to the trouble of building a new building, when at some point down the line, I would decide to let go of my building,” Mr. Larsen said.
“They are young guys. They are trying to employ more people on the waterfront. I was using it as an outbuilding,” Mr. Larsen said.
Looking ahead, Mr. Gale said he and Mr. Broderick are thinking of foregoing the whole “transport boat” program all together next year. They believe it is more economical to use their current building as a staging operation for a truck operation that would allow them to transport the fluke, the striped bass, the squid, and any other species by truck to the mainland. Shipping fish and product by boat to the mainland was a good idea for a while, when there was no wholesale fish buying operation on the Menemsha waterfront making regular trips to the mainland.
Local retail fishmarkets already buy from the locals, but there needed to be a way to export the seafood on a regular basis to bigger markets. Mr. Gale said the building will help a lot.
Mr. Gale and Mr. Broderick just got back from a visit to their blue mussel experimental farm off Aquinnah. They came back with a sample of the blue mussels that have been growing on line. The shellfish were a good deal bigger than when they saw them last and many of them are an inch and a half in length. That is great growth for animals that were placed in the water back in October. It’s possible they will be of marketable size this summer.
Their sample will go to the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory and come under the examination of Scott Lindell. Mr. Lindell is assisting the Vineyard project with his expertise. He is the marine resources manager and director of the Scientific Aquaculture Program at the lab.
Mr. Gale said the animals will be examined for pea crabs. The fishermen hope the blue mussels will have none. Though harmless, the presence of these tiny little crabs inside the shellfish will have an impact on their value and marketability.
Blue mussels without pea crabs have a higher value on the market than those that do. The growers and marine biologists hope that since none of these animals actually touch the ocean bottom and instead live on suspended lines, they’ll be without the little critters.
Rick Karney, director of the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group, was instrumental in helping the experimental stations get started, and with the permit process, the work took years. Mr. Karney said of Mr. Gale and Mr. Broderick: “It is exciting to see how passionate these two are about this. These young guys are hooked.”
Mr. Gale’s old boat Jane Lee is not without a purpose. Mr. Gale said he has rigged the former shrimper from South Carolina for sea clamming.