Not that long ago, when Aquinnah was Gay Head, rusted Fords outnumbered Teslas, and annual town meetings were as entertaining as a food fight at a family picnic, Gay Headers welcomed participants in the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby. Not any more.

The nucleus of the hospitable town I remember included Wampanoag families with deep roots in the land, unreconstructed hippies who accepted driving 30 minutes down-Island to get ice cream, and escapees from nine-to-five America who had fallen in love with the remote beauty and laid-back feel of the community — and never mind the ticks. Derby fishermen in the know could unusually find a small beach lot where a generous property owner had left the seasonal chain unlocked, and the town relaxed summer parking restrictions. And while it may be hard to believe, considering that the average price of a house now exceeds $1.3 million, in the fifties one of the Derby prizes was a Gay Head house lot.

The Philbin Beach parking lot, now open in the fall only to residents, once provided access to the productive shoreline where I and many others found inspiration in the accomplishments of legendary fisherman Serge De Semov of Hampton Bay, N.Y. In 1963, Mr. De Semov won the Derby with a 52-pound, 13-ounce striped bass pulled from the surf. The man known as “the Mad Russian” repeated his triumph the next two years in a row.

Lobsterville Beach is a perennial hotspot for big false albacore and bonito. Fishermen with the balance of mountain goats and the social skills of New York City subway strap-hangers favor the jetties on either side of the entrance to Menemsha Pond. I and others prefer to intercept the fish as they race along the sandy stretch of beach where there’s more elbow room to enjoy the experience of actually hooking one of these notoriously fickle speedsters.

But parking is at a premium at West Basin. Non-resident beach-goers, fishermen and boaters using the state launch ramp share 14 non-resident parking spaces, one of which requires a handicap sticker, at the end of the state-owned road.

As recently as 2018, Aquinnah Police Chief Randhi Belain won approval from town leaders to relax parking rules.

“We have done it every year,” Chief Belain told selectmen at the time. “They [fishermen] are usually there early in the morning, and are gone before anyone notices anyway.”

Three years and one pandemic later, earlier this month, select board members Gary Haley, Tom Murphy and Julie Vanderhoop decided the town would provide no accommodation for participants in the 76th Derby. Their action followed a vote to double parking fines beginning in 2022 in an effort to deter visitors who accept a fine as the cost of going to the beach or visiting the cliff shops.

The summer crush has intensified, putting pressure on town officials to respond to seasonal parking scofflaws. But why is there no consideration for their Island neighbors, year-round residents who are accustomed to reclaiming a measure of access in the off-season. West Tisbury allows parking at Lambert’s Cove Beach. Chilmark allows parking at Squibnocket. Oak Bluffs, Tisbury, and Edgartown have no residency restrictions.

Aquinnah’s decision to maintain resident parking restrictions in the off-season is another step to an Island of gated, suburban-minded communities led by those who extol the virtues of our “special” Island even as they unwittingly erode its generous, historically best qualities.

Judging by past years, at its conclusion on Oct. 16, more than 3,000 fishermen will have registered for the 76th Derby. At least half of those will be Islanders — men and women who make up the fabric of our community. They are carpenters, plumbers, electricians, teachers, shop clerks, delivery drivers, nurses, etc. Oh, and they will not all be fishing at Aquinnah’s shoreline. The 76th Derby souvenir booklet includes many familiar Island faces and names, as well as those of nine Island students awarded $76,000 in scholarships in 2021. Let them fish.

Nelson Sigelman

Vineyard Haven