My Martha’s Vineyard Fisherman


At my house, you don’t have to look very far for some real and authentic Martha’s Vineyard-ness. You see, I happened to have married a Mayhew – the Island’s founding non-native – family. And my hubby Jonathan’s a longtime commercial fisherman to boot.

So, I sat him down and got him to spill the beans so that I could share my personal slice of this island with all of you…

Anne: How long have you been fishing on Martha’s Vineyard?

Jonathan: I grew up in a fishing family. So I’ve been at this for 50 years – since I was 7. My father and grandfather, and my great grandfather too, they were all commercial fisherman.

Anne: What kind of fish do you mainly target?

Jonathan: My favorite species to fish is harpoon swordfish. But in my life, I’ve caught them all: sea scallops, squid, cod, haddock, yellow tail flounder, grey sole, monkfish, fluke – my father was a lobsterman – bay scallops, quahogs (clams). Honestly, it would be easier to tell you what I haven’t caught!

Anne: Tell me about the camaraderie of the fishermen on the Vineyard?

Jonathan: We actually have great camaraderie here. In other places in New England there’s a lot of conflict between fishermen of different species – because their gear can get mixed up – nets and traps can get tangled, etc. But on the Vineyard – we supply bait to each other and we have good communication about gear use – so this doesn’t happen.

We even formed the Martha’s Vineyard Duke’s County Fishermen’s Association. We work together to preserve the environment of our waters and our fish. For example, we’ve agreed collectively not to use harmful gear – like the gill net.

Anne: You’re a Mayhew – the founding non-native family on the Island – what does this mean to you?

Jonathan: I’m an 11th generation Vineyarder…that and 50 cents will get me a cup of coffee on the docks of Menemsha!

There’s always been discussion about the wash-ashores being the newcomers – but the truth is that we were wash-ashores too – just a little earlier than everyone else! The only true natives on the island are the members of the Wampanoag Tribe. Some people put stock in how long your family’s been on the island, but most of the Mayhew’s don’t put any stock in it at all. My dad used to say, ‘The mayhews are like a hill of potatoes – the best of them are underground.’ Today there are at least 20 families above ground.

Anne: What’s your favorite thing about fishing in Vineyard waters?

Jonathan: It had always been the freedom of making your own choices and the challenge of making a living out of fishing here. But that’s changed a lot with government regulations. Some of them are good, don’t get me wrong – but they’ve really hurt the small fishing communities along the east coast. Maybe it wasn’t their intention, but it’s been the consequence. We’ve lost a lot of access to the big fisheries, the corporations. It’s been painful and destructive. Similar to agriculture and the damage done to the small farm. Sadly, it’s been a long fight with little satisfaction.

Anne: Where’s the best place to take kids to fish?

Jonathan: Up-island, I have to go with off the dock’s in Menemsha. Dutcher’s dock is public, has easy access, not a large expense – all you need is a small rod and a pack of frozen squid. You can also fish off the jetties. Another option is beach fishing – you need a little more knowledge (like sunrise and sunset are best). And even if you don’t catch anything, it’s still fun.

Down-island I’d hit the bridges between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown. You can get striped bass and bluefish, and if you’re lucky you’ll get a bonita – they’re fast action, big fight, you need a good rod and reel.

Anne: And the best place for a seasoned fishermen?

Jonathan: I’d go with the charters. There are fantastic fishermen taking folks out all over the island.

For a list of great Martha’s Vineyard fishing charters click here.

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