Atlantic City: Fish and Chips
The Atlantic City seaport grew out of what was originally known as Absecon, or alternately, “Absegami,” “Absecom” and “Absegum” by its original inhabitants, the Lenni Lenape Indians.
In 1614, Dutch Captain Cornelius Jackson Mey (for whom Mays Landing and Cape May would later be named, despite the misspelling) explored the Mullica and Great Egg Harbor Rivers. Mey named what is now Atlantic County “Eyren Haven,” or “harbour of eggs,” for the numerous wild fowl eggs he found there.
The area continued developing around its water resources, and by the time of the Revolutionary War, a bustling seaport lined the banks of the Absecon Creek. Besides reaping the harvest of the waters, the area became known for its many skilled boat makers.
So active were the waters around what would later be named Atlantic City that in 1835 Dr. Jonathan Pitney, the “Father of Atlantic City,” began petitioning Congress for a lighthouse on Absecon Island. Pitney was concerned about the safety of seafarers in the area between Great and Little Egg Harbors that had become so dangerous it was known as “Graveyard Inlet.” It would take another 21 years, and untold losses, before Congress finally appropriated $35,000 for the lighthouse.
Work on the lighthouse was completed in 1856 at a total cost of $52,187. Clearly, Pitney had hit upon the right idea, as not a single ship was wrecked in the first 10 months of the lighthouse’s operation.
The importance of fishing to the area began to be eclipsed by tourism once the island was connected to the mainland by bridge and rail in 1880. With that connection and the subsequent development of amusement centers on the piers of Atlantic City, the transformation to a resort town had begun. In 1976, it would be furthered by the approval of casino gambling in the city.
Still, there are plenty of fish alongside the casino chips, as Atlantic City serves as a seaport of note in New Jersey. In 2003, the port brought in 20.8 million pounds of finfish and shellfish valued at more than $38 million. The Atlantic City commercial fishery consists of a sizable sea clam fleet (both for surf clams and ocean quahogs) and a smaller number of in-shore crab, hard clam, net and pot vessels. The size of the sea clam fleet, located at bayside docks near Absecon inlet, has declined in recent years due to changes in federal law allowing the consolidation and transfer of individual quotas.
Sea clams are marketed directly to processors or shuckers, where they are processed into chowders, dips and fried clam strips. The major recent change in this process has been the relocation of processors to areas outside New Jersey due to concerns about rising land costs and environmental regulations.