N.J. fishing industry works to recover from Sandy
POINT PLEASANT BEACH, N.J. - Commercial fisherman Jim Lovgren has navigated some rough seas lately. First, his 70-foot trawler, Viking II, swamped in high waves and sank 80 miles off Cape May in late September.
POINT PLEASANT BEACH, N.J. - Commercial fisherman Jim Lovgren has navigated some rough seas lately.
First, his 70-foot trawler, Viking II, swamped in high waves and sank 80 miles off Cape May in late September.
Then, on Oct. 22, Sandy took a dramatic swipe at the Fisherman's Dock Cooperative, where Lovgren is a director and about a dozen third- and fourth-generation fishermen bring their catch to be sold at markets throughout the country.
The operation, which has survived plenty of ferocious hurricanes and howling nor'easters since it was established on the docks along Channel Avenue nearly 60 years ago, had never experienced anything as bad as Sandy, Lovgren said.
"This is the kind of thing that can make you want to give up," said Lovgren, 56, of Brick. "But I'm at the stage in life where I'm too old to find a new career . . . or a new way of life."
A no-nonsense, salt-of-the-sea kind of man, Lovgren is so immersed in the fisheries business that at any given moment he could be on the deck of a boat; in Washington, testifying before Congress; or in a quiet corner, writing poetry about the beauty of the ocean's bounty. In 2006, he received the Highliner Lifetime Achievement Award from National Fisherman, a journal of the commercial fishing industry.
Fisheries up and down the Shore suffered varying degrees of Sandy damage. North of Point Pleasant, the docks, processing facility, and restaurant at the Belford Seafood Cooperative near Sandy Hook nearly washed away. South, on Long Beach Island, the Viking Village commercial seafood operation in Barnegat Light suffered a little damage to its office and docks. In Atlantic City and Cape May, fleets saw almost no damage.
On Friday, the U.S. Department of Commerce declared a federal fisheries resource disaster for New Jersey and New York, opening the door for emergency federal funding for the region's industry. Aid could include reimbursement for losses, equipment repair and replacement, restoration of ecosystems and fisheries, and job retraining, according to an announcement of the aid.
New Jersey's $2.7 billion commercial and recreational fishing industry "is not only a defining element of the Jersey Shore and a crucial tourism draw, but is also vital and [an] essential component of New Jersey's coastal economy and invaluable recreational activity," Gov. Christie wrote in the letter requesting the declaration.
The storm churned the sea and "confused" fish, according to Lovgren and others. It brought an abrupt end to the lucrative fall season, when vessels usually land scallops, tuna, and summer flounder by the boatload. Sought-after migratory fish headed for calmer waters, leaving the less desirable winter catch - dogfish, skate, and a few fluke.
The state Department of Environmental Protection closed shellfish beds from Little Egg Inlet south to Cape May Point for 17 days to monitor the water for possible contamination from bacteria or viruses that could have been caused by the storm.
State Environmental Commissioner Bob Martin ordered those beds reopened Thursday after finding no water quality degradation and extended the season to Nov. 30 to help oystermen recover losses.
But oyster beds in the Raritan Bay-Sandy Hook area are closed until further notice because the storm damaged area wastewater treatment plants and pump stations, and discharges of partially treated and untreated wastewater occurred. Shellfish beds in Barnegat Bay also remain closed because the DEP founded elevated levels of bacteria there.
In 2011, New Jersey's commercial fishing industry landed 175 million pounds of seafood - tuna, flounder, crabs, clams, oysters, mullet, and other shellfish and finfish - worth about $1.3 billion, officials said.
About 8,500 workers support the state's recreational fishing industry and $1.4 billion in annual sales, according to state statistics.
The disaster declaration could directly help the 2,500 workers who make their livings in New Jersey's commercial fishery - boat captains, mates, deck hands, and others - who haven't worked in two to three weeks because of the storm, said Greg DiDomenico, executive director of the Garden State Seafood Association, an industry organization made up of seafood processors and co-ops like Fisherman's Dock.
"These are people working in a business that needs to get back in business, because this is an important industry that provides good jobs to people in coastal areas year-round," DiDomenico said.
A total of 40,000 New Jersey residents have some employment connection to the state's fishing industry, the second largest on the East Coast behind New Bedford, Mass.
In Point Pleasant, heavy-hulled trawlers survived the storm intact, but the docks around the co-op were a pile of splintered wood and cracked fiberglass.
In the middle of the weather crisis when Viking Village's fleet couldn't dock in Barnegat Light, Cape May allowed boats that had been out to sea before the storm hit to off-load their catches there.
And when Viking Village got its power back - and ice machines working - it provided ice to Point Pleasant to keep the fish fresh there until the catch was sold, said Ron Vreeland, operations manager at Viking Village.
"Everybody suffered in this one; everybody had to work together," Vreeland said.
Fisher folk are a hardy lot, said Roy Diehl, president of the Belford Fisherman's Cooperative, founded in 1952. About 20 of his members are chipping in to pay for more than $1 million in storm damage. About eight feet of water swamped the docks, office, restaurant, and seafood market.
"It's a mess . . . but we'll rebuild, we'll be back," Diehl said.
Five men have been working seven days a week to rebuild the facility's wooden docks and buildings. Diehl expected the receiving dock, where tons of seafood is off-loaded from trawlers and sold to wholesale markets around the country, to be operational in about a week.
"It was nasty. But what else can you do but keep on going?" Diehl said.