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Martha’s Vineyard mourns death of fisherman off Nantucket

Martha’s Vineyard fisherman Luke Gurney, who died while fishing off Nantucket.Handout

Maybe it was the gear he hauled, the bait he placed, or the conch pots he dropped into Nantucket Sound.

Luke Gurney had a natural ability to catch fish. But, tragically, fishing also killed him.

On Monday, while dropping two 50-pound conch pots near Nantucket, Gurney became entangled in the lines and was swept overboard. His body was recovered after a massive search by air and sea led by the Coast Guard.

A spokesman for the Nantucket Police Department said a cause of death must still be determined by the state medical examiner’s office.

Gurney’s death created a ripple of sorrow that ran through his hometown of New Bedford and his adopted home of Martha’s Vineyard.


“He almost seemed to have a sixth sense about where to find and catch fish,” said Greg Skomal, a marine biologist for the state in New Bedford, who once hired Gurney to conduct research on sharks.

On a charter trip out of Gloucester several years ago, Skomal recalled, Gurney reeled in cod, haddock, and pollock while others got barely a nibble.

“He was the only guy hooking up fish,” he said. “He was an incredible fisherman.”

The death of Gurney touched many, but it especially hit home for Martha’s Vineyard’s close-knit fishing community.

“It’s very somber here,” Jeffrey Canha, a friend of 25 years, said by telephone. “He treated everybody he met as if they were family.”

Gurney, 48, lived in Oak Bluffs with his wife, Robyn, and their sons, Jacob, 13, and Samuel, 11.

Neither his wife nor his father, John Gurney of Mattapoisett, could be reached for comment on Wednesday.

Gurney’s 40-foot boat, No Regrets, was docked at the town wharf in Vineyard Haven on Wednesday. A wreath made of laurel, holly, and grapevine was placed on the door to the wheelhouse.


Friends are encouraged to leave a note of condolence, or a memento such as a fishing hook, Canha said.

“We want people to pay their respects to the captain and his vessel,” he said.

Gurney shared his passion for fishing with his family, Canha said.

“He was a great dad and husband, a real family man,” he said. “He had his wife and two sons out on the boat on Saturday for a fun day on the water.”

A fund-raising page has been set up by friends on Martha’s Vineyard to help his family. Robyn Gurney is a special education teacher at the Tisbury School.

“When something tragic happens here, people pull together,” said Susan Rogers, a neighbor who lives across the street from the Gurney family. “His loss is tragic and it’s going to be difficult for his family.”

Gurney had an infectious smile and a high energy level that made him a welcome presence on the island, said another friend, John Custer.

“I don’t think I ever saw him tired,” said Custer, principal of the West Tisbury School who previously worked with Robyn Gurney. “He was just an upbeat, happy guy. Every fifth word out of his mouth was ‘Dude.’ ”

As a recreational fisherman, Custer admired Gurney’s ability to earn a living as a commercial fisherman.

“It’s not an easy business,” he said.

He also takes solace in the name Gurney chose for his boat — No Regrets.


“He really loved the community here,” said Custer, who last saw Gurney two months ago at a lip-sync contest at the island’s Portuguese-American Club. “He had a zillion friends. He was respected by the fishermen. I’d like to think that he would have no regrets.”

Kathy McCabe can be reached at Katherine.McCabe@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKMcCabe.