Commercial and recreational shellfishermen took issue with recent changes to the Oak Bluffs scalloping season at a select board meeting Tuesday, saying the stricter bushel limits were unnecessary and would negatively impact livelihoods on the water.

The new Oak Bluffs scalloping regulations were recommended to the town select board in late September and approved unanimously during the board’s meeting on Sept. 27.

While the limit of one bushel of scallops for recreational fisherman and three bushels of scallops for commercial fisherman will remain in effect through 2022, selectman voted to lower the recreational maximum to half a bushel per day and the commercial amount to two bushels per day starting Jan. 1, 2023.

The new regulations apply to both Sengekontacket Pond and the Lagoon. Sengekontacket opens for recreational scallopers on Saturday, Oct. 15, and for commercial fishermen on Monday, Nov. 7. The Lagoon opens for recreational scalloping on Saturday, Nov. 12 and for commercial fishermen on Monday, Nov. 14.

Ken DeBettencourt shows the select board a map of historic shellfishing rounds in Oak Bluffs — Noah Asimow

At Tuesday’s meeting, a handful of scallopers pressed the Oak Bluffs select board to roll back the changes, saying that they would further hurt commercial fishermen who were already struggling to make ends meet in a challenging industry.

Kyle Peters, one of the few commercial scallopers who fish out of Sengekontacket Pond, said that with prices as high as they are, he could lose out on nearly $200 per bushel after the New Year change.

Although dragging for scallops is not allowed in Sengekontacket, Mr. Peters said he will dive and snorkel for the finicky bivalves for at least five months out of the year.

“There’s enough scallops out there to make a living out there,” Mr. Peters said. “After December, I have no problem going in the water and getting the limit.”

Mr. Peters also felt it was unfair that other towns hadn’t lowered their limit.

“As soon as [the shellfish committee] gets together, they have a way of making things miserable for a fishermen,” Mr. Peters said. “The whole rest of the Island has a 3 bushel limit.”

Ken DeBettencourt, a recreational scalloper, said that the half-bushel limit was too small to make a trip to the pond worthwhile.

“It’s hard to get out there, put your equipment on, for a half-bushel,” Mr. DeBettencourt said. “By the time I give them away, I’m not going to have anything. Nothing for the freezer, or anything. I say to keep it as is, one bushel. And they’re all going to die anyway.”

A historically rich shellfishing ground, Sengekontacket Pond and the Lagoon have seen their numbers of commercial and recreational bay scallopers dwindle in recent decades. But town officials have worked to increase seed and protect existing scallop beds, in part by instituting new catch limits.

Responding to the concerns from fishermen, members of the town shellfish committee said that the new regulations were meant to be dynamic, and could be re-evaluated if there were large numbers of adult scallops in the pond come January 2023. Committee member Mark Landers said the regulations were instituted to help the pond rebuild historic scallop grounds to benefit future commercial fisherman.

“This is a trial thing,” Mr. Landers said. “Nothing is set in stone. We want what is best for the pond, and for the fisherman…It can always be brought back to us, to keep the limit as is. But we should know more by the first of the year.”

The select board spoke at length regarding the issue, ultimately deciding to keep the limits in place and revisit the issue on Nov. 22.

“I think we have an opportunity where nothing is changing until January 1,” select board member Jason Balboni said. “We have an opportunity to allow [the committee] to take a look at this for the next month or two, and see what they recommend at that point.”

In other business, the select board approved a six-article warrant for the town’s special town meeting on Nov. 1. The warrant will ask voters to appropriate $300,000 for the town to undertake an assessment of town property and create a 20-year capital plan for the maintenance and construction of town buildings.

Other warrant articles include a $35,000 appropriation to the waterways committee and two articles that concern the transfer of a parcel of land located between Bellevue avenue and Country Road to the affordable housing committee for the purpose of veterans housing.

Voters will also be asked to approve a new spending agreement for the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. The agreement lays out a town-by-town capital spending formula for the proposed high school building project, which was accepted into the state school building association earlier this year. All six towns must approve the spending formula at town meeting by May 29, 2023 for the project to move forward.

Oak Bluffs would pay 22.89 per cent of capital costs, Tisbury 22.9 per cent, Edgartown 30.13 per cent, West Tisbury 13.42 per cent, Chilmark 8.26 per cent and Aquinnah 2.4 per cent according to the agreement.

At the meeting Tuesday, the board also voted to use brick-colored pavers in the Healy Square redevelopment, heard a presentation on the town’s climate action plan and approved a scheduling change for their annual Christmas tree lighting, moving it from its traditional Wednesday hour to Saturday, Nov. 26.

The change thrilled the select board.

“I can’t tell you how happy I am to see it moved to a Saturday,” select board member Brian Packish said. “I’ve been to the one in Edgartown, and I can say loudly and proudly that the one in Oak Bluffs is the greatest tree lighting on the entire Island.”