Life on Martha’s Vineyard revolves around our relationship with the sea. We worry about making time to get to the beach, making boat reservations to get off-Island, and most importantly, making the most of the resources the ocean provides for us. Island Grown Schools (IGS) highlights seafood as their Harvest of the Month in April, and we’re big fans of it all year round. Fish is a sustainable and viable part of our Island economy and history, and delicious and nutritious addition to our plates.
If you don’t personally fish on Martha’s Vineyard you likely know someone that does. Drive by the Menemsha jetty most days and you’ll find fishing enthusiasts of all ages, ‘dropping lines’ into the water, maybe catching mackerel or fluke that they’ll use for lobster bait or that they’ll bake or bread for an easy fish fry. Drive by Edgartown harbor after sundown and you’ll see another contingent of locals jigging for squid. I can personally attest to how fun squid is to catch and how delicious it is to eat!
I went squid jigging for the first time last spring at sunset on State Beach and I absolutely loved it. It was so fun and satisfying to throw the line out, move it up and down, and even better to feel these fast, soft-bodied swimmers connect. I caught a lot of squid that first night–call it beginners luck. We cleaned them and coated them in a simple dredge of cornmeal and salt and pepper, sauteed them, and served them over rice the next day.
But fishing is no easy task. Hundreds of Island fishermen work through every season, in often dangerous conditions, to guarantee stocked local fish markets and restaurants. These men and women work to assure the livelihood of commercial fishing, and the future of Island fishing families and the trade. The Martha’s Vineyard Fishermen’s Preservation Trust is hard at work safeguarding Martha’s Vineyard’s fishing heritage and future by supporting the island’s small-boat, owner-operated fishing fleets, and their sustainably harvested catch. The Trust preserves the historic fishing fleets, communities, and economies of Martha’s Vineyard; protects the marine populations and fishing grounds off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard and New England; and educates the community about its local fisheries.
You can do your part to support the Island seafood economy by asking for the local catch at Island fish markets and restaurants. In partnership with the MV Fishermen’s Preservation Trust, the Martha’s Vineyard Seafood Collaborative supports a network of local independent commercial fishermen and aquaculture farmers by purchasing, marketing, and wholesaling their catches and harvests. They wholesale a seasonal variety of local species both on and off-Island to restaurants, markets, private chefs, caterers, and larger wholesale distributors.
Scup for example is a commonly found native fish, but it hasn’t historically been a popular fish to eat here. I was happy to come across private chef Gavin Smith a.k.a. the Food Minded Fellow’s recipe for Grilled Whole Scup with Tomatillo Sauce. Scup is an abundant and easily caught resource on Martha’s Vineyard but many people avoid them as they are full of bones. Be assured the meat is absolutely delectable–sweet, and light with a very mild flavor–and well worth eating!
Conch is also a local native fish and underutilized, but Chef Deon Thomas of Deon’s Kitchen at the VFW in Oak Bluffs has been hard at work to change that. If you’re not sure how to get started enjoying conch check out Chef Deon’s Island Conch Cookery cookbook which gives you a range of possibilities for cooking the affordable, sustainable mollusk. As a food activist, I was especially happy to provide my photography services for the book, part of my ongoing commitment to promoting sustainable food practices on Martha’s Vineyard.
Our Vineyard wild-caught and aquaculture-raised seafood are known for their quality and freshness. Whenever we visit some of our favorite local restaurants like Beach Road, Atria and Alchemy we give special attention to the menu to see what seafood has been sourced locally. Quahogs, oysters, scallops, and mussels are especially important aquaculture and make for a delicious and nutritious dinner. Black sea bass and fluke are flavorful mild fish that are plentiful in our local waters.
Find yourself some local sea bass and enjoy this simple fish ceviche recipe below from IGS in honor of our delicious native seafood and the hardworking fishermen that provide it for us.
Simple Fish Ceviche recipe from IGS
3 haddock, sea bass or any white flakey fish filets
½ cup sweet onion, finely chopped
¼ cup fresh ripe mango, chopped
¼ cup fresh chopped cilantro
¼ cup lime juice
¼ cup lemon juice
½ tsp sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
If using raw fish: Soak the fish in the lemon juice, lime juice, salt and pepper for 30 minutes – 1 hour. Then cut the fish into small ½ inch bites.
If using cooked fish: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and place fish filets in a lightly oiled baking dish. Sprinkle with some salt and pepper and bake for 12-15 minutes until fish is flaky and moist. When fish is done let it cool completely and cut into small ½ inch bites.
Place remaining ingredients in a medium bowl and toss together with the fish until well combined. Place in refrigerator to marinate until ready to eat. Serve with tortilla chips and sliced avocado and enjoy!