Vineyard fishermen may have a fairer shot at lucrative federal and state permits with the introduction this week of two new programs aimed at making the permits more affordable.
The Martha’s Vineyard/Dukes County Fishermen Association has formed the Martha’s Vineyard Fishermen’s Preservation Trust to purchase permits and lease them to Island fishermen at affordable rates. The Penobscot East Resource Center in Maine has organized a similar program to help New England fishermen get a foot in the door and assist them in purchasing federal ground fishing permits, also available at below market value.
News of the programs was announced at the fishermen association’s annual dinner at the Home Port Restaurant in Menemsha Wednesday night, where program status reports and industry updates were shared over clam chowder, fish and chips and blueberry pie. This year marks the fourth dinner for the gathering of fishermen from across the Island.
Association member and fisherman Wes Brighton announced the formation of the new bank, which has no money in it yet, but the fishermen’s association plans to hold a fundraiser this summer. The bank will be open to all fishermen, both new and experienced. For example, the bank could assist a conch fisherman looking to obtain a coastal access permit to catch fluke or squid, or help someone interested in a sea scalloping permit. The system is based on other similar programs on Cape Cod and Gloucester.
“Hopefully it will give people the opportunity to go and catch fish and potentially be profitable,” Mr. Brighton said.
While the Vineyard permit bank would be for fishermen of all experience levels, the Maine permit bank aims to increase fleet diversity by encouraging younger fishermen to enter ground fishing, project leader Patrick Shepard said.
“Opportunities for ground fishing, especially in eastern Maine and areas all along the New England coast, have been pretty bleak lately,” he said. “We’re looking for the next generation of fishermen to enter the fisheries in a way that makes sense financially and ecologically.”
Groundfishing refers to species that live and feed on the ocean floor, including haddock, cod, pollock, hake and flounder. Fishermen must have a federal Northeast Multispecies permit in order to harvest these types of fish. Permit prices have skyrocketed in recent years, sometimes reaching into six digit figures.
“Lots of these guys don’t have $100,000 to dump on a ground fish permit,” Mr. Shepard said. “That’s definitely prohibitive on its own.”
The project provides fishermen who want to get into the industry with business planning advice and help to find affordable permits.
“It’s a pretty important part of what everyone is trying to accomplish with diversity,” he said. “We’re excited about it and hoping to get more people on board.”
Other program updates include Vineyard Vision fellow Shelley Edmundson’s work with conch studies. Ms. Edmundson released 2,000 tagged conchs in Nantucket and Vineyard Sounds to study movement and growth rates. She reported she has received 46 back over the course of the year.
“That’s less than 2.5 per cent return, but for a tag-and-capture that’s fairly good,” Ms. Edmundson said. So far this season she’s received six tagged conchs back, and asked any fishermen who stumbles upon one to put it in a floating lobster pot.
Ms. Edmundson said she was also in the process of building an underwater conch camera to study growth patterns.
The annual gathering began with a blessing by fisherman Buddy Vanderhoop, where he gave “thanks for all the fishermen’s hard work that brought us this wonderful bounty” and thanked restaurant owners Sarah and Bob Nixon “for showing us generosity year after year and being a vital part of our association.”
Before dinner began, Mrs. Nixon reaffirmed the 83-year-old restaurant’s commitment to serving Vineyard-sourced seafood. Last year the restaurant announced they would prepare only fish caught in Vineyard waters, something that has proven to be difficult but worth the challenge, Mrs. Nixon said.
“We’ve dedicated ourselves to three important things — who is catching our fish, where it’s caught and how it’s caught — and we’re thinking about that every step of the way,” she said. “It’s not easy but it’s doable...and we’re grateful to all of you. This is about our community. This is about the waters of our shore. If we don’t take care of our own people and our own waters and our own aquaculture, who’s going to do it?”
For more information on the Penobscot East Resource Center’s groundfish permit project visit penobscoteast.org or for information on the Martha’s Vineyard Fishermen’s Preservation Trust call 508-696-3840.