Last night 30 deepwater fishermen from around New England expressed their approval at a meeting in Gloucester for a new proposal to open up swordfishing to rod and reel and harpoon fishermen. Gregory Mayhew and his son Todd, both Menemsha fishermen, attended as did Alex Friedman, president of the Martha’s Vineyard/Dukes County Fishermen’s Association.

It was once a symbol of the Island and a principal fish landed on the docks. Swordfish weighing hundreds of pounds were hauled in from Menemsha, Tisbury, Oak Bluffs and Edgartown. They lined the docks and fish markets; their tails nailed to the walls of fish shacks bore testament to the fishery’s success. As some fishermen tell it, swordfish were once so abundant they were seen within miles of the shore, as close as Squibnocket and Dogfish Bar.

But those days have long since disappeared.

On March 28 in Gloucester, a fisheries hearing will take place regarding perhaps the most iconic and traditional of all Vineyard fish: the magnificent Broadbill Swordfish. The federal government has recently proposed a new open-access permit that would allow small-boat fishermen to retain and sell swordfish caught by rod and reel or harpoon. By strictly regulating large, industrial-scale vessels, U.S. swordfish have recently become a shining example of responsible and successful management, with all current science pointing to fully-rebuilt stocks.


The film is just 23 minutes, 14 seconds long. It’s silent, black and white and there are moments when the images jump around due to the choppiness of the sea — or of the editing. There’s a shot of a man with a long harpoon and dart leaning against the rail of a bowsprit. There’s a wooden keg bouncing over the wave tops toward the horizon.


Harpooned swordfish, once synonymous with the Fourth of July holiday and a staple of the Menemsha fishing fleet, are no longer being caught by Vineyard fishermen.

Though prevalent in local fish markets this season, harpooned swordfish are now all being caught by fishermen from afar.

The reason has to do with a convoluted bureaucracy, an expensive permit system and waning interest in the age-old method of catching fresh swordfish.


Top scientists at the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and
fish conservation advocates are reporting a significant increase in the
numbers of swordfish swimming in the North Atlantic. Although waters
around the Vineyard have yet to see any recovery, the numbers of
juvenile fish have improved significantly.