Following a lengthy and well-attended public hearing last week, Tisbury shellfish regulations remain largely unchanged.
A minor change in language regarding area closures was easily approved last Tuesday by the selectmen, along with an update to commercial shellfishing regulations that makes them consistent with state laws. The latter change restricts the number of commercial license holders per boat to two.
But a proposed ban on wet storage of shellfish for family permit holders drew considerable debate and dissent from local fishermen and was ultimately sent back to the shellfish committee for reworking.
The ban on wet storage has the backing of shellfish constable Danielle Ewart and the committee, as well as Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group director Rick Karney and Oak Bluffs shellfish constable David Gruden. The ban has been approved in Oak Bluffs.
At the hearing Ms. Ewart read aloud from a letter written by Mr. Karney detailing the reasoning behind the ban, which addressed both human health concerns — diseases transmitted from shellfish — and the possibility of contaminating neighboring bodies of water.
Advisory committee chairman James Tilton said the impetus for the ban was an incident in which assistant shellfish constable Ellery Whitworth discovered two milk crates of quahaugs hanging from a privately-owned dock. Most of the shellfish were dead and covered with algae. Mr. Whitworth called the state, but state regulations only prohibit wet storage for commercial fishermen.
“My biggest concern is something coming in from the outside,” Mr. Tilton said.
“With the human health issues, you don’t want to close the barn door after the horse has left,” he said.
Tisbury health agent Thomas Pachico said he had investigated cases of shellfish disease reported to the state Division of Marine Fisheries and found none attributed to wet storage.
“I have to date myself, but I’ve wet stored clams before some people in this room were born, and I’ve never been sick,” Mr. Pachico said.
Tisbury board of health chairman Michael Loberg said historical data showed no threats to pond health or to people based on wet storage. He advocated adopting an identification system for wet storage baskets for better accountability.
“When you get your license, you could indicate when and where you’re going to be wet storing in the event you need to be contacted,” Mr. Loberg said. “I think there are things we can do.”
Selectman Melinda Loberg said rather than impose a new regulation, there was a chance for better education about the risks of wet storage. She noted that it would be nearly impossible to determine how many fisherman employ the practice.
“I think we have the opportunity to use this as a teachable moment and that’s what I could come down on the side of,” she said.
Her colleagues Jonathan Snyder and selectman Tristan Israel agreed.
“We had an incident,” Mr. Israel said. “To go from that to making this regulation . . . think that there are middle steps that could be taken.” He suggested developing a pamphlet and imposing a time limit for wet storage.
Selectmen also took no action on the committee’s proposal to limit the number of family license holders able to use a boat in a day to three, recommending that the committee revisit the plan.
“Ultimately, the same amount of shellfish gets taken with the permits,” Mrs. Loberg said.
The board did approve a proposal that would allow the committee to close down areas to shellfish in order to protect both seed and broodstock. The matter of what qualified as seed, broodstock and adults came before the board last spring and was not fully resolved. Tisbury scalloper Lynne Fraker noted that Tisbury’s definition of broodstock was different from that of the state.
Mr. Israel said he backed the recommendation allowing closures.
“If we can get more scallops because more of them are spawning, in the end it benefits us all,” he said.
Mr. Snyder agreed. “It gives them a little bit more latitude in protecting and preserving and growing that resource,” he said.
The vote was 2-1 to approve the measure. Mrs. Loberg said she was not comfortable voting since she did not have a clear definition of broodstock.