January 7, 2013

Northeastern fishing industry hopes for help with Sandy losses

A bill funding flood insurance claims doesn't cover boat employees' lost wages or damage to docks, processing plants and restaurants.

By WAYNE PARRY/The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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A fishing boat named Empty Pockets sits in a parking lot in the Belford fishing port in Middletown, N.J., last month. The port sustained nearly $1 million in damages from Superstorm Sandy, some of which its owners hope to recoup through federal storm aid.

The Associated Press

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Joe Branin, manager of the Belford Seafood Co-op in Middletown, N.J., walks across sand where the commercial fishing port's dock used to be before Superstorm Sandy destroyed it, leaving only rows of support pilings. Pounding waves also gutted a popular restaurant and ripped away all five garage doors and parts of the exterior of office and storage buildings.

The Associated Press

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"We couldn't get trucks to transport the product," said Dwight Kooyman, who manages two of Viking Village's scallop boats. "I have five guys that work for me that couldn't work that entire time. If they don't work, they don't get paid."

They're all waiting to see whether Congress includes them in the billions of dollars in storm reconstruction aid it is considering. Less than three weeks after the Oct. 29 storm, the U.S. Commerce Department declared a fishery resource disaster for New Jersey and New York. But all that did was authorize the federal government to disburse any aid that Congress approves. Specific plans for applying for and distributing any aid to fishermen still have to be formulated.

Dale Parsons is a fifth-generation fisherman at the Jersey shore, who owns a shellfish business in Tuckerton, and who used to own a commercial hatchery for tiny clams and oysters on the edge of Barnegat Bay – until Sandy destroyed it, causing several hundred thousand dollars' worth of losses.

"It was millions of oysters and clams that won't be spawned next year," he said. "Even if we rebuild right now, it will take a good year, year and a half to get it together. It's going to take a long time coming."

The damage to seafood processors and docks is only part of the industry's problems, Parsons said; he also fears reduced business from restaurants that see fewer tourists this summer and order less seafood.

"I'm just waiting to see what kind of business there's going to be in the spring," he said. "No one knows yet."

Sandy also affected recreational fishing businesses, including coastal bait and tackle shops that were flooded. New Jersey officials are soliciting damage reports from individual businesses to help make the case that they need direct federal grants, not just loans. The state's recreational fishing industry estimates it lost $160 million from the storm.

Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, said charter fishing boats suffered greatly because people were just not taking fishing trips in the weeks following the storm.

"The trains weren't running, there was no gas to get out to the docks, so I'd say they lost substantial income," she said.

In some places, Sandy actually appears to have helped, rather than hurt, the fishing industry. Maryland environmental officials say an influx of fresh water into the Chesapeake Bay may benefit the oyster population by helping to keep the disease known as dermo in check.

Gibby Dean, president of the Chesapeake Bay Commercial Fishermen's Association, said the oyster harvest is the best it's been in a long time – so good that people are giving up crabbing to go after oysters.

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