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. Overfishing threatened to destroy the species, which led to bureaucracy and an expensive permit system limiting the local catch. In recent years essentially no Vineyard fishermen were left hauling in the fish, even as the stocks rebounded.
With the healthy restoration of swordfish along the eastern seaboard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries service said it is now considering an open-access permit that could return swordfishing to Island waters by opening access to all fishermen, and small-boat fishermen in particular.
The National Marine Fisheries Service will host a public hearing in Gloucester seeking comment on the proposed permit on Thursday, March 28. If adopted, rod and reel fishermen and harpoon fishermen would be able to pursue swordfish and sell what they catch.
While the details of the permit are yet to be determined and much of the work is yet to be done, the permit could be adopted as early as the end of this summer.
The hearing will be held at the NOAA Fisheries Service, at 55 Great Republic Drive, and will start at 5:30 p.m. Similar hearings have already been held in St. Petersburg, Fla. and Silver Spring, Md. Another hearing will be held April 10 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. NOAA is expected to accept comments on the proposal through April 23. “This is a mini-step in the right direction. We should have more access,” said Menemsha fishermen Gregory Mayhew, 67, one of the last Island local fishermen known to have harpooned swordfish. Mr. Mayhew let his permit lapse several years, and has since found himself unable to afford another permit under the present regulatory system, even reaching out to former Sen. Scott Brown for help.
He said he has been in contact with NOAA officials and plans to attend the meeting in Gloucester.
“This is a glimmer of hope,” Mr. Mayhew said.