Fisherman’s Dock Cooperative
Around the same time the Belford co-op was established, another was formed at Point Pleasant. Working together for their common good, fishermen can reap more of the benefits of their hard work than if they were to bring their catch to a private dock owner to pack. The private dock owner can act as a dictator, with a take-it-or-leave-it approach.
The co-op arrangement, however, brings with it the kinds of obstacles that face any democracy. As Jim Lovgren, a member of the co-op, said, “You’ve got 15 members, so that’s 15 different ideas.” A chance in 1979 to purchase a nearby dock property that had been a clam processing plant drew mixed reaction from the members, with younger fishermen favoring the purchase and older ones asking, “Why should we stick our necks out?” Lovgren said.
The co-op decided against buying the property, whose asking price at the time was $600,000. A year later, Lovgren said, the property was worth $2 million.
One of the challenges faced by the co-op is the diversity of the port. Commercial fishing operations share the area with charter fishing boats and other pleasure boaters. Over the past 20 years, the boats in the party fleet have grown bigger, while the fleet itself has remained about the same size or diminished by a few boats.
Tensions can arise over the interaction between the commercial and party boat operations, mainly over who has more of an interest in catching a limited number of fish.
Party boats may spend as much into the local economy as $20 per fish for what they catch, while commercial fishermen, who see themselves as the “hunter-gatherers bringing the fish to market,” spend considerably less per fish due to economies of scale.
The analogy Lovgren draws is of someone asking whether it is more important to have someone grow a few tomatoes in their back yard or to have a large-scale vegetable farm producing thousands of tomatoes for the public to buy.
The analogies to farming are not lost on the co-op’s fishermen. After all, it was the New Jersey Agriculture Department that helped form the group more than five decades ago.
“The one thing you see different about fishing and farming is that when a county agriculture board has a meeting, there’s 20 or 30 people in the room,” Lovgren said. “You try to get 20 fishermen in a room to work together. The only way to do that it seems is to have the government threaten to shut down the industry.
“Would the industry benefit from a tie-in to agriculture? I think so. I think agriculture and fishing could strengthen each other. What is fishing doing under the U.S. Commerce Department? We (also have oversight) by the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Department of State, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the Coast Guard. Nobody really has enough of a piece to make a coordinated effort to help the industry.”