Belford: A History of Relying on the Catch
To get an idea of how long the lure of sea fishing has played a major role in northern New Jersey, consider this: The first person believed to have chartered a recreational fishing boat out of Sandy Hook was none other than George Washington.
Centuries later, the ports of northern New Jersey would become synonymous with shellfish. At one point, the land under the Statue of Liberty was known as Oyster Island because of the abundance of oysters in the waters surrounding it. However, water quality issues limited the harvest in the second half of the 20th century.
Belford rose to prominence as a fishing port in the 19th Century as the center for the menhaden fishery and fish processing. Menhaden is an oily fish used in a variety of industrial processes. The menhaden harvest taken from Belford was processed into oil and meal at a nearby plant from the early 1900s until 1987. Between the port operations and the employment opportunities provided by the processing plant, a great number of the area’s residents had their livelihoods tied to the fishing industry.
The following excerpt from a Harper’s New Monthly story of October 1878 related the importance of the industry to the area.
The business of catching these fish and reducing them to oil and manure has only lately been developed into large proportions. From the earliest times the coast farmers have been accustomed to catch them in seines and spread them on their fields -- a very unsavory practice; and to some extent oil was pressed from them long ago. But the fishing was all done in small sailing vessels, and depended on the good fortune of the fish coming to the right spot. A few years ago steamers began to be substituted, and are now almost exclusively employed by those who are able to embark any money in the enterprise. Almost seventy are engaged, all the way from New Jersey to Nova Scotia, catching an aggregate of 50,000,000 (fish) a year.
Clearly, fishing and aquaculture will continue playing a major role in the area‘s economic picture. The Bayshore Development Office, working in conjunction with entrepreneurs, local fishermen and government agencies, has proposed a commercial fishing and aquaculture project on the outlet of Compton’s Creek in Belford. The plans include an aquaculture development facility, a seafood cooperative site that would expand the existing restaurant and add a fish market building with stalls for individual businesses and a park/educational facility. Initially, the aquaculture facility would focus on hardshell clams and would contain a hatchery, nursery and grow-out facilities.