Updated: Dec 17, 2018
John's Letter to the Editor in the MV Times
November 14, 2018
To the Editor:
Our role as members of the Martha’s Vineyard Fishermen’s Preservation Trust (MVFPT) has evolved from that of trying to obtain permits and retain the access stream for Island commercial fishermen to the expanded challenge of trying to become communicators and connectors between fishermen and the entities that surround their situation.
One of our initial foes was the feeling of hopelessness that existed within the fishing community. Its roots were planted when many historic fisheries were overfished in the ’80s and ’90s, and the permits became consolidated and owned by larger corporations with access to far more capital. The way of being that had existed in the life of a fisherman took a turn that both shocked and weakened the resolve within the industry. It became increasingly difficult to obtain capital, permits, and a place within the wisdom stream that historically had accepted new entrants. Fueling the situation was the public’s view of the industry as a dying giant that had basically taken itself out at its own knees.
This perception of the industry has to change. This need to recalibrate the true condition of the commercial fishing occupation is critical. Fishermen who have access to boats and permits are running very successful businesses. The high cost of the permits is a result of high demand, not because they are associated with a bygone industry. Some sectors of the industry are booming, others are recovering, and still others are yet to be tapped into, as Southern fisheries are migrating to Northern waters. The level of opportunity is rising, and we as a board want to help Island fishermen access its offerings.
Linking science, good business practices, collective ideas, capital, and hard work with fishermen is what our board is tasked with. With the help of our supporters, we feel that we have achieved a momentum that will carry us into the future, with the creation of several successful commercial fishing businesses.
It has been incredible to witness the slow evolution of excitement and optimism as we have tried to pull options and new ideas out of the remnants of the past’s opportunities. Time after time, we have unveiled people or groups that have been tirelessly working behind the scenes to maintain the industry. We have met with scientists, politicians, banks, selectmen, law enforcement, Coast Guard officials, community leaders, fishery managers, conservation leaders, wind farm representatives, the press, and, most important, fishermen both young and old who are sharing their commitment, knowledge, and passion. We have linked people together who may have been historic foes, and witnessed the reunion of their similarities.
When we had our first all-Island fishermen’s meeting four years ago, in attendance were seven board members, one person from the press, and five fishermen who showed up late. This past October, we had an all-Island fishermen’s meeting with 45 fishermen, the new Menemsha Coast Guard chief and his officer in charge of operations, Congressmen Keating’s policy advisor, a distinguished member of our community, and 10 board members. Five fishermen were still out fishing, and had to miss the meeting. Thoughts were shared, ideas passed around, and updates listened to. We witnessed the nurturing of a palpable excitement in the room as those present incorporated what they were seeing and hearing into their situations and dreams. As more fishermen asked questions, this growing optimism was adhering itself to all those present.
The Island community needs a diverse occupation field for our economy to prosper. A healthy economy provides for a sound community. The fishing industry has been an historical way of life for generations. We as a community can’t sit back and watch it succumb to a needless demise. If we support the fisheries, we are also bolstering the need to understand and protect the ecosystems that are crucial to their life cycles. We are encouraging relationships that develop when community members are enabled to selflessly help one another and get help in return. We are weaving a very important thread into the fabric of our surroundings. The time and energy we invest in our fishing industry will pay back dividends that will add to our diversified strength. Empathy is apathy’s foe as we seek to understand the opportunities that are exposing themselves in front of us. By being cognizant and respectful of our traditions and occupational needs, we can re-establish some of what has been lost.
We recently had a meeting with the Massachusetts Fish and Game Commissioner Ron Amidon, Environmental Police Maj. Pat Moran, and EPO Matt Bass. When asked how they felt about the state of the industry, Commissioner Amidon instantly said he feels very optimistic about the future. He also stated that big corporations are what may have weakened the industry, and that small, local, family-owned fishing businesses are what is going to save it. We feel the same way, and have shaped our mission around propagating the small, independent fishermen.
Our need for capital is growing with every new opportunity that is presented to us. We need to raise money for working capital to cover our administrative costs, as well as for purchasing more sea scallop quota and fishing permits. We are also seeking impact investors whom we can connect with fishermen who have a good business plan, yet are stifled by a lack of funding. Our final goal is to establish self-sustaining fishing businesses and, through quota and permit leasing, create an income stream to our nonprofit that will enable us to be self-sustaining as well.
The coming year is proving itself to be one of opportunity and growth for our mission. We have hired an administrative assistant, and have recently added our 11th board member. Fishermen who want to sell their permits are contacting us, and we are trying to connect those permits with fishermen who are seeking them. Our success will ultimately evolve around our ability to raise capital. Without the funds to purchase permits and cover our operating costs, we will stall in our efforts. Continued support from our community is critical. The support we have received to date has been humbling and instrumental in our growth. It has been what has invigorated our board as a whole, and created a strong sense of pride individually as board members. With continued community support, we are very confident that we will be able to achieve our goals. We are always looking for input, advice, or recommendations from anybody who wants to help.
The future of one of our Island’s oldest and most time-tested traditional occupations is in the hands of the community that will ultimately benefit from it. Let us not miss the opportunity to sustain what we have, and instead catapult it into a worthy and respectful chapter of our future’s story.
John Keene, president
Martha’s Vineyard Fishermen’s Preservation Trust