As mentioned in the earlier section of this report on New Jersey’s six major ports, fishing and aquaculture have long helped shape the society surrounding their operations. Just as the fishing villages and whaling camps of past centuries influenced the evolution of nearby communities, so today does the fishing and aquaculture industry continue to positively impact society.
Most obvious among those effects are the economic ones. All told, the industry brings in $4.5 billion annually from fisheries, aquaculture and recreational fishing. This is part of a $50 billion-a-year “Coastal Zone” sector of the state’s economy, which employs one out of every six people working in New Jersey.
The seafood industry’s jobs aren’t limited to the nearly 3,000 fishermen on the boats. Thousands of people work in the state’s seafood processing plants and wholesalers. Their wages, in turn, keep afloat a variety of businesses from which they buy goods and services.
In 2003, the New Jersey fish and shellfish harvest totaled $121 million in “ex-vessel” value, the amount paid to fishermen at the dock when they return with the catch. For that year, 170 million pounds of fish and shellfish were landed. New Jersey’s top harvests are sea scallops, surf clams, ocean quahogs and hard clams.
The industry’s ups and down have led to many innovations, both in the way fishermen organize themselves for economic benefit and in the adaptations to environmental and quality-control concerns.
The “fisherman’s co-op” is perhaps the best example of how industry practitioners can band together for maximum economic benefit. These arrangements date to the 1950s in New Jersey, when a co-op was established at the port of Belford. Historically dependent on finfish that are shipped to New Jersey and New York wholesalers, the co-op has shared facilities that provide dock space, ice and marketing services.
Most recently, the co-op established an on-site retail market and a restaurant, a tip of the fishing cap to the changing nature of how their catch is marketed. Together, the fishermen have been able to create the kind of well-rounded marketing operation that may not have been possible working individually.