The shores of the beach at Herring Creek, which flows into Menemsha Pond, are clear. A string of rocks tapers out into the cove, a lone rowboat floats at high tide. In the morning the water stands still, rippling from the occasional gust of wind, resounding the chirps and chatters of coastal birds. Gone from the shoreline are the black, netted bags that served as oyster pods in the attempt to revive the shellfish population in the pond over the last decade.
Many of the oyster pods belonged to the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), as part of their larger effort to revive the shellfish productivity of the pond, but a significant portion also belonged to private oyster farmers, said Sarah Thulin, chairman of the Aquinnah conservation commission. Some, but not all, of the projects were abandoned.
As the bags continued to wash up, fouling the shoreline, the town hired an outside agency to come in and clean them up.
Now the area has been cleaned, and the focus has shifted to better management of Menemsha Pond through a cooperative venture that includes the towns of Aquinnah, Chilmark and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah). The tribe recently received a grant of $181,590 from the United States Fish and Wildlife Services.
“The tribe and the towns of Chilmark and Aquinnah, as owners of the pond, will work together to compose a development and management plan for the pond using the funds from the grant,” said Bret Stearns, director of the tribe’s natural resources department. “We’re working on the enhancement of fish and shellfish resources. We share the same resources and waterway, and we want to protect what we already have,” he said. “Our goal is to have a series of very open forums so that we can figure out what we want to do. At some point we’re going to talk about bay scallops, both because of the revenue they bring, and because they’re a great indicator of ecosystem health.”
Dredging is one issue to address. Rick Karney, director of the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group, said dredging has been under discussion since he came onto the scene 30 years ago.
“There’s an argument that we need some surgical dredging to deepen the waters here that have filled in,” Mr. Karney said. “It’s important to bring back some of the shellfishing. We used to have a lot of scallops [in Menemsha Pond], especially over on the Chilmark side. The areas that have been very productive in the past have been filled in with sand. It’s a major thing that should be addressed.”
Mrs. Thulin sounded a somewhat cautionary note, given the recent problems with the oyster bags in the pond. “If a grant is being used to bring back fishing and help the industry . . . if it’s contained and it doesn’t get out of control with infrastructure in the pond — then everyone will be pleased with the attempt to improve the quality of the water and of fishing,” she said.
Mr. Stearns spoke of the need for consensus: “We’re hoping to approach it as a united front . . . We have to talk about goals and priorities before we get into specifics,” he said, concluding: “I don’t think these open forum discussions will uncover anything we don’t already know, but everyone has the pond’s best interest at heart . . . and we’re looking to enhance it in the best way we can.”