Barnegat Light: Tilefish Capital of the World
The experience at Barnegat Light shows that commercial food fisheries, charter/party boat fisheries and pricey resort communities can co-exist and mutually benefit. In the 1970s and ‘80s, multi-use waterfronts were considered trendy and were being actively developed in ports along the East Coast. Barnegat Light has successfully made the transition to a multi-use port as a result of an active fishing community that reached out to both local residents and visitors. Working with the local chamber of commerce, the commercial dock regularly conducts tours that explain the different types of fishing gear, the history of the fisheries, and the many efforts that have been undertaken by the fishermen themselves to help ensure the sustainability of the resource.
During the 1970’s Barnegat Light was known as the “tilefish capital of the world”. These deepwater fish have a taste and texture reminiscent of scallops. Because there was little market for these fish, it fell to the fishing industry to actively promote and market their catch.
The abundance of tilefish dropped off and concerns about deepwater fish made these harvesters focus on other species. This is a common scenario; species are abundant at one time and then suddenly disappear. Records from the colonial era show that the black sea bass suddenly disappeared and then reappeared. These shifts can be due to water temperature, abundance of predators, and salinity changes, among other factors.
Today, long-line vessels fish in deep water on the edge of the Continental Shelf targeting tilefish, shark, swordfish, and tuna. It is not uncommon for long-liners and scallopers to remain at sea for 12 to 14 days. Scallopers travel to George’s Bank to harvest sea scallops. The highest quality shellfish are shucked at sea and dry packed to maintain the best quality. Deep-water fisheries are supplemented by small, inshore gillnetters who harvest high quality fish destined for restaurant menus throughout the area.
The long-liners out of Barnegat Light are similar to the Andrea Gale, the boat featured in the movie “The Perfect Storm”. As a matter of fact, one of the vessels from Barnegat Light was used in the movie. The Captain tells stories about the director who felt that the boat should be able to make tight turns and tricky maneuvers. Although this was a fun light-hearted activity, many of the boats also perform more serious recovery efforts like searching for the remains of TWA Flight 800.