Vineyard commercial fishermen are coming out ahead in a price war over bay scallops.
Yesterday, Island commercial bay scallop fishermen received as much as $15 a pound, while their counterparts on Nantucket were paid only $11 a pound.
Consumers on both Islands yesterday were paying essentially the same price, around $18 a pound. In Orleans, the price was $29.99 a pound.
The Vineyard and Nantucket still have viable bay scallops fisheries, though Cape Cod does have pockets of success.
Of the two Islands, the Vineyard has been the more consistent Island for sending bay scallops to market. Nantucket is only now coming out of a tough stretch of poor landings, far less than the Vineyard as a total. This year will be different: Nantucket landings could exceed 10,000 bushels.
Dave Fronzuto, marine superintendent for Nantucket, said 58 boats were out fishing on opening day on Nov. 1. Many of the boats had two people aboard, thus getting two limits per boat. Most of the boats were back at the dock in two or three hours of dragging.
On Nov. 1, Edgartown had over 20 boats out on the opening day of bay scallop season in Cape Pogue Pond, the favorite spot for shellfishermen in that town. More areas around the Vineyard opened to commercial harvesting this past Monday.
Earlier this week, Vineyard fishermen were paid as much at $17 per pound. The Nantucket price, however, has remained steady over the past week at $11.
The disparity between what commercial shellfishermen are paid on the Vineyard compared to Nantucket is not just tied to the economic law of supply and demand.
Louis Larsen of the Net Result fish market in Vineyard Haven said that he buys his bay scallops from about thirty fishermen. He said he tries to pay them a rate that will keep them coming through the winter.
“I am trying to keep a consistent supply for my market, so I try to set a price I can keep,” Mr. Larsen said. “On Nantucket I think they start low and then go up. I think on Nantucket they say: ‘How low can we go and still have the fishermen sell to us?’”
David Glidden of Glidden Island Seafood on Nantucket said he was troubled by the higher price being paid to the fishermen on the Vineyard, as it creates unhappiness among his fishermen.
Mr. Glidden said running his fish market has been difficult in the last two winters when the bay scallop fishery was doing poorly. The economics of a good bay scallop season is essential to staying open in the winter.
Nantucket has a daily limit of five bushels a day for each licensed fisherman.
Edgartown commercial bay scallop fishermen have a three ten-gallon basket limit per day. Tisbury, Oak Bluffs and Chilmark each have three-bushel limits.
Warren Gaines, deputy shellfish constable for Edgartown, said fishermen think Cape Pogue will do better than last year. Sengekontacket Pond also is slightly better, but still nothing like it was years ago.
Eleven fishermen were working in Chilmark on Monday, according to Stanley Larsen, shellfish constable for that town. Of the product, the Chilmark shellfish constable said: “They are nice-looking.”
On Monday, 11 commercial fishermen were working in Lagoon Pond on the Oak Bluffs side, according to Oak Bluffs shellfish constable David Grunden.
The Aquinnah selectmen have yet to schedule the opening of that town’s commercial bay scallop season. The Aquinnah season usually opens late.
More than enough bay scallops are landed to meet consumer demand on both the Vineyard and Nantucket. Fish markets on both Islands said that 90 per cent of fresh product landed gets shipped to the mainland where seafood lovers regard the bay scallop as a rare delicacy, far more valuable than the more plentiful and less tasty sea scallop.
Both Islands put a high value on a healthy shellfishery.
On the Vineyard, participating towns help fund the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group. Also, the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) is in the midst of a federally funded bay scallop enhancement project.
In the last two years, however, Nantucket has had weak landings. Mr. Fronzuto said two years ago the Island’s total landings were 5,600 bushels; 3,800 last year. “Three years ago we landed 32,500 bushels,” he said.
Given such a major setback, Mr. Fronzuto said, “We set up a seed sanctuary in Second Bend. We concentrated on removing predators, which are mostly made up of green crabs and conch.”
He said they also took 150,000 of their own bay scallop seed, which were raised at an aquaculture site in Barnstable before they were released this summer. If those animals survive, they’ll be next year’s crop.