By MARK ALAN LOVEWELL
The state reopened coastal ponds to shellfishing on Saturday, following a closure due to heavy rains which ended early last week. The state Division of Marine Fisheries had issued the closure to more than 30 Massachusetts towns on Sept. 29, based on the expectation that water quality in coastal ponds would diminish after three days of heavy rains.
Shellfish managers were typically concerned that road runoff would fill the ponds with excessive bacteria.
David Grunden, shellfish constable for Oak Bluffs, said he got the word from the division on Friday and was out on the pond by 6:30 a.m. taking down the signs so the pond could open at 7 a.m.
Word of the opening of these coastal ponds to shellfishing didn’t take long to get around. Close to a dozen quahauggers were out on the Oak Bluffs flats in Sengekontacket that morning. The same was observed in other towns.
Mr. Grunden said there were even more quahauggers out on Sunday.
It had been a long wait. Shellfishermen hadn’t had access to Sengekontacket Pond since early this year.
On another environmental front, the work of Mr. Grunden and others is featured in the current issue of Oceanus, an online publication of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution at whoi.edu/oceanus.
The article: Are Sea Squirts Crowding Out Scallops? is about the invasive sea squirts spreading throughout this region.
The article, written by Amy E. Nevala, is about Mary Carmon, a researcher with WHOI who has been documenting the expanding sea squirts population in Vineyard and Cape waters since last year. She was assisted here by Mr. Grunden.
“We found ten species of sea squirts on our Island. Only three are native and the other seven are nonindigenous and invasive,” Mr. Grunden said this week. The animals were first introduced into these waters from Asia and Europe more than 80 years ago. They have spread on the bottom of Georges Bank and are spreading along coastal waters.
A sea squirt is an animal with plant-like characteristics, Mr. Grunden said. In some places they form an ugly looking mat on the bottom. What really has Mr. Grunden concerned is their appearance on the blades of eel grass. “It is certainly a threat to the eel grass meadows. Eel grass are already threatened with excess nutrient loading. We’ve got seaweeds growing on the eel grass leaves. We’ve got blooms of phytoplankton that block sunlight from getting to the grass,” he said. This is just another adverse impact on a shellfish which is so culturally tied to this community and a big income-producer in a season which doesn’t have many.
There is a next step. Mr. Grunden said they hope to continue to map and monitor the sea squirts as they expand in all the Island’s coastal ponds. “Over the winter we will put up monitoring stations across the Island, to watch if they spread or decline. We need to try and learn as much as we can about them to see if we can develop a management scheme to limit their impact.”
Mr. Grunden said Ms. Carman is seeking new funding sources for more research. “We are looking for funding from Sea Grant. She wants to develop a study on a regional basis,” Mr. Grunden said.
According to the article, “Sea squirts feed on algae and bacteria, using one tube to suck in water and another tube to squirt it out. They are tunicates, a name derived from a firm, rubbery outer covering called a tunic.”
The author reports, “The creatures take over new areas in several ways, some traveling in from affected areas by clinging to boat bottoms or aquaculture gear, others by simply traveling from place to place by clinging to a piece of wood, a plastic bottle, or a blade of eel grass.”
More details of the study will be presented this weekend at the Fourth National Conference on Coastal and Estuarine Habitat Restoration, at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence. At the last national conference in 2006, there were 1,400 people in attendance.
Chilmark will open its commercial bay scallop season on Monday, Nov. 3. Selectmen acted on Tuesday night.
The Chilmark shellfish committee is hosting a public discussion on Thursday, Oct. 16, at 5:30 p.m. in the selectmen’s room.
In a letter to the selectmen, shellfish chairman John Armstrong wrote:
“We are inviting the commercial shellfishermen to attend this meeting. We will discuss the status of the bay scallop crop and vote on a recommended catch limit for the commercial season. We will also discuss the oyster season and consider recommending not opening that commercial season until 2009, after the bay scallop season closes.”
Scup Fishery Closed
Recreational fishermen should be aware that the recreational scup fishery closed on Sept. 26. Its impact isn’t just to those who fish for scup for dinner. It also has a big impact on anglers who like to use scup as bait for catching stripers.
At the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby headquarters at the foot of Main street there is a little poster announcing the closure. Fishermen are not only violating the law if they use scup for bait, they are breaking derby rules.
Coinciding with this closure, recreational fishermen might like to know that the commercial scup fishery will re-open in these state waters on Nov. 1 and fishermen will be limited to a 2,000-pound trip limit.