Edgartown selectmen voted not to suspend the commercial scalloping license of fisherman Richard Morris Monday, going against the recommendation of the shellfish committee at a heated public hearing.
Mr. Morris was caught by shellfish officers with one and three quarters bushels of scallops over the daily legal limit under the bench seat of his boat at the Main street dock in Edgartown on Jan. 2. The Edgartown shellfish committee recommended a one-year license suspension for Mr. Morris, but at the hearing Monday Edgartown selectman Arthur Smadbeck called the recommendation draconian. He and selectman Margaret Serpa voted to overrule the committee recommendation and instead let Mr. Morris off with a warning.
“I appreciate the work of the shellfish committee,” Mr. Smadbeck said, “And it is very difficult not to take the recommendation of this board.” He also cautioned Mr. Morris against any future infractions, telling him: “If you disobey the rules of your license it will go away for a long time.”
Under current town regulations, licensed commercial scallopers can harvest three level 10-gallon baskets of scallops per day. Shellfishermen are required to check in with officers stationed at the foot of Main street, who conduct random checks of boats, looking in cabins or under bench seats for stolen scallops.
“I don’t care if you can run a stick across the basket or not,” said Edgartown shellfish constable Paul Bagnall following the meeting, referring to the old term “struck basket,” when shellfish wardens used a stick to check baskets and make sure they were level.
Represented at the hearing by Mr. Bagnall, deputy Warren Gaines and committee chairman Cooper Gilkes, the committee, which voted at a meeting last September to begin strict rule enforcement, felt that Mr. Morris’s infraction was part of a pattern of offenses. Mr. Morris had previously been caught with his boat out on a Sunday, which is against regulations. Mr. Gilkes also stated at the meeting that Mr. Morris had been caught inside a seeded area of Cape Pogue earlier on the day in question. Mr. Morris denied the claim, arguing that the buoys which delineate the seed area move too much to be reliable.
“There is a map at the foot of Main street,” countered Mr. Bagnall.
Mr. Morris argued that his first offense (fishing on Sunday) was committed years ago. “I wasn’t even commercial back then, I was just out trying my boat out,” he said.
Mrs. Serpa said she thinks the protocol needs to be clearer. “I don’t think it should happen [that we not support the committee] but there’s conflicting information. Maybe at this point clearer rules should be given to people so there’s no excuse,” she said.
Mr. Bagnall said the majority of Edgartown fishermen understand the rules and support the work of the constables. “You don’t last long out on the water at this time of year and people are happy to have us there,” he said.
In prosecuting a repeat offense for violating shellfish rules, Mr. Bagnall has three courses of action available to him — take the case to the district court clerk magistrate as a criminal or civil matter, or take it to the town clerk as a civil matter.
In this instance Mr. Bagnall went to the town clerk who issued a $100 fine against Mr. Morris, followed by the hearing in front of the selectmen on the matter of license suspension.
In other business Monday Stephanie Burke and Howard Marlin came before selectmen to plead the case for the preservation of music and performing arts at the regional high school. Their committee, made up of a dozen parents of Minnesingers from the high school, is seeking to raise $27,000 directly from towns to offset school budget cuts to the music department this year.
Though the committee’s request was successful in West Tisbury and Tisbury, where selectmen agreed to present it as an article on the warrant for annual town meetings in April, Mrs. Serpa and Mr. Smadbeck declined.
Mr. Smadbeck said that while he applauded the efforts of the group to keep the issue alive and is personally against the cuts, he advised against circumventing the high school budget and seeking money from directly from towns — particularly in a year of tight town budgets.
“The high school committee has hundreds of thousands of dollars in their E and D [excess and deficiency] fund and you should be petitioning them,” he said.
Mrs. Serpa agreed. “The spade work needs to be done,” she said. “Trying to raise money outside of the budgetary process is very awkward.”
Mr. Marlin said the committee’s principle aim in presenting the issue to towns is to raise awareness. “A lot of people do not know this is happening,” he said. “We have been successful today.”
Also at the meeting selectmen voted to approve a seasonal liquor license for Joshua Aronie and Jonathan Blau — owners of Sharky’s Cantina in Oak Bluffs — to open the Vineyard Cantina at 266 Upper Main street. The bar and restaurant will include an outside deck. If they have a successful season, Mr. Aronie said he will apply for a year-round license in the fall.