Port Norris also could see opportunities in the agri-tourism or eco-tourism arenas. A 1996 eco-tourism plan designed by Cumberland County leaders identified six areas that could be targeted for eco-tourism growth. Of the six, four had to do with the county’s maritime characteristics.
According to a section of the web site of the Cumberland Development Corporation (CDC), tourism possibilities along that line include, “marine-based industries and recreation amenities; tracing Cumberland County’s Maritime Heritage; boating adventures in Cumberland County; (and) hunting, fishing and crabbing opportunities…”
A $300,000 marketing initiative in 2002 targeted local residents, visitors and investors, but “there is a need to go further to attract the tourism dollars,” according to the CDC web site. One big obstacle to attracting tourists to the area is a lack of hotel rooms. In the two-county Southern Shore Region that includes Cumberland and Cape May counties, more than 96 percent of the tourism-related expenditures went to Cape May. The CDC recommended:
“Lengthening the stay of tourists – at a minimum, accommodating a greater number of overnight stays – is a key element to gain tourism dollars. Since Cumberland County does not have major attractions, it will be critical to package destinations together for potential tourists to entice them to extend their stay.”
Clearly, any one of New Jersey’s six major ports could pursue the Gloucester, Massachusetts, model mentioned by Tuckerton Seaport’s executive director, but it would take a concerted effort in some cases, as evidenced in Port Norris, to also provide the amenities needed to accommodate tourists. Whether residents in largely rural areas like Cumberland County would be receptive to such development would remain to be seen.
That could depend, Garden State Seafood’s DiDomenico said, on how well the industry can make itself a known quantity in its host communities.
“We’re so hidden, in many cases, that I’m not sure the local community knows we’re there,” he said. “You talk to people in the food store, in the restaurant business, and they don’t seem to have a clue that New Jersey is a tremendous source of seafood.”
A big part of that public education effort is one-to-one relationships between the fishermen and members of groups like local Chambers of Commerce and other business organizations.
“That’s where you see the benefit of people like Jim Lovgren at Fisherman’s Dock Co-op and Ernie Panacek of Viking Village,” DiDomenico said. “They’re real local people who do a lot of work in their communities. People know those guys and know what they do.”