For those who love to eat fresh bay scallops harvested from Island ponds, they won’t be available in fish markets for long. The fishery closed yesterday.
Shellfish constables report it was a fair season, with Edgartown doing the best. More than 100 commercial bay scallopers across the Island were able to make a decent day’s pay since the season began back in the fall. Only one or two fishermen were out working the ponds in each of the towns by the season’s end, though.
Edgartown shellfishermen harvested the most, about the same amount as those in all the other towns put together. Recreational and commercial fishermen in that town landed 4,728 bushels.
This was a better year than last, not just because of the numbers but due to the price. Edgartown shellfish constable Paul Bagnall said the higher price this year was more a sign of an improved economy on the mainland than of the availability of the shellfish. Bay scallops are a fickle fishery when it comes to price. Mainland demand drives the price, and when the consumer can’t afford to pay more than $20 a pound, the shellfish don’t move.
There are only two consistently reliable places to get bay scallops commercially, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. Mr. Bagnall noted, however, that he has heard positive news for bay scallop restoration efforts on Long Island, Rhode Island and Cape Cod.
Vineyard fishermen earned anywhere from $15 to $16 a pound for their shucked shellfish. The retail price was around $20 to $22 a pound.
Cape Pogue Pond is Edgartown’s biggest producer, and the fishermen treat the pond as if it were a gold mine. When the season opened there were at least 25 fishermen out in their boats and they got their limit, three fish baskets a day, quickly. Mr. Bagnall said the number of fishermen dropped to about a dozen after Thanksgiving.
There was plenty of disappointment within the shellfish department, however, when reports emerged that a large number of juvenile bay scallops, spawned last year, were dying off in Cape Pogue Pond.
Last summer there was a banner spawning of juvenile in the pond. The baby bay scallops peppered the bottom, in one of the largest spawning in recent memory. It takes a bay scallop two years to make it to harvestable size; the babies that were dying weren’t yet a year old.
While it is not entirely clear why it happened, Mr. Bagnall said he suspects it was overcrowding. As the season went on, it looked as if there were two kinds of bay scallops in the ponds, those that were growing well and those that seemed to mature slowly. “The smaller ones just seemed unhappy after August,” Mr. Bagnall said. They grew differently.
Fortunately, prior to the die-off, with the help of shellfishermen, the shellfish department moved a lot of those little juveniles to other parts of the pond and even some to Sengekontacket Pond.
Mr. Bagnall believes that there are still enough juvenile shellfish in the ponds to offer promise for next year. “I am cautiously optimistic,” he said.
“The size of the bay scallops was good, I think it was a good year,” said Danielle Ewart, Tisbury shellfish constable. Most of the scallops came from Lagoon Pond. Fishermen landed 1,300 bushels last year. Ms. Ewart said the season opened with about 15 boats going out. Some of the boats were occupied by more than one fisherman, so there were more limits.
Oak Bluffs had a better bay scallop season than the year before. More bay scallops were found on the Oak Bluffs side of Lagoon Pond and on the Oak Bluffs side of Sengekontacket than in previous years.
Chilmark commercial fishermen landed 1,605 bushels of bay scallops last year. Recreational fishermen landed 100 bushels. Town shellfish constable Isaiah Scheffer said at one point two years ago, he was expecting 3,000 bushels. But as in Edgartown, this past winter there was a juvenile bay scallop die-off in the winter of 2009-2010.
The bivalves coming from Menemsha Pond are bigger than in Quitsa Pond. The season began last October with 30 fishermen going out and they did well for quite a while. Two months into the season, Mr. Scheffer said there were still 22 fishermen out on the ponds. “I think it was a good season,” Mr. Scheffer said, “Fishermen would rather be on the water than anywhere else.” Mr. Scheffer said there were a few beginners he hadn’t seen before out on the water. There were at least two fishermen still fishing this week, he added.
Aquinnah didn’t have a season in the fall of 2009, but they had one last year, about 1,600 bushels for the fall. There were fewer than 30 commercial scallopers fishing in Aquinnah this past winter. Aquinnah typically starts later in the season than other towns in the commonwealth. Their season started in November. The daily limit was lowered from three rounded bushels to two bushels in an effort to slow the harvesting.
Hollis Smith, a member of the Aquinnah shellfish committee, said at the start of the season, “They could get their limit in an hour. Now it takes three hours to get a bushel.”
Mr. Smith said the fishermen have been shipping their bay scallops to the Cape directly and pretty consistently getting $16 a pound. “I think the price was great,” Mr. Smith said.