The Martha’s Vineyard/Dukes County Fishermen’s Association was created in 2009, when it was clear to most local fisherman that having an association with a voice was stronger than having a group of fishermen act individually. Warren Doty was named president of the association, but recently he informed the county commissioners that he was stepping down.
He told the Gazette it was time for a fisherman to step into the position.
“It is time for an active fisherman to be president,” Mr. Doty said. “It is time for new leadership.”
Not that Mr. Doty, 68, doesn’t know fish. For 20 years he ran Menemsha Basin Seafood, a wholesale business that bought fish from local fishermen. The business operated mostly at Packer’s Wharf in a large building that today sits idle. It closed at the end of 2003.
The Martha’s Vineyard/Dukes County Fishermen’s Association is the Island’s only political voice advocating for local commercial fishermen. It was started as a way to tip the political climate so that Vineyard fishermen would have a better chance of influencing the fisheries management decision-makers on the mainland.
“We want it so a young man can make a decent living wage,” Mr. Doty said. “They [fishermen] can have a good income for 10 weeks bay scalloping, but that doesn’t translate to a year-round income. You can make a living wage in the conch industry but that season is short. It is basically impossible at this moment to make a living in the finfish business.”
The association has voiced opinions on matters concerning the management of striped bass, alewives and conch. Last summer, the association dropped its lawsuit against the Cape Wind project after working out a deal. The association was opposed to the development but worked out an undisclosed agreement with the developer.
“When we speak at hearings, we represent an association,” Mr. Doty said. “Our voice is better if we speak as a group than as individuals. We paid a lot of attention to lobsters. When there was talk [three years ago] about a moratorium, a proposal to close the lobster fishery in Southeastern New England, we spoke.” That moratorium didn’t happen.
The association also advocates for “eating local seafood.” For the last three years it has hosted a Seafood Throwdown at the Farmers’ Market in West Tisbury. For many more years the association has organized an annual free fisherman’s dinner night in May at the Home Port Restaurant in Menemsha.
There is an urgency in getting a new president, Mr. Doty said. “There will be hearings this spring and it would be good to have someone attend those meetings,” he said.
A man who wears many hats, Mr. Doty may be best known as a Chilmark selectman, where along with his colleagues he has made many political decisions to keep Menemsha an active fishing port at a time when the number of fishermen and their boats were in decline.
Mr. Doty will retain his leadership role as president of the Menemsha Fisheries Development Fund. The organization, founded in 2007, contributes $70,000 to $80,000 a year in grants to local fishermen who are purchasing equipment and moving ahead on new projects. The funds come from a number of anonymous donors. The fund also has hosted a series of fisheries forums at the Chilmark Public Library and helped to underwrite the cost of an industrial-size ice-making machine.
Mr. Doty said he worries about the future of commercial fishing on the Vineyard and that makes the fishermen’s association even more important.
“People are going out of business. We need some new programs so that people can make a living on the water. We have a long way to go to make it possible for the next generation of fishermen.”