CAPE MAY — Rising scallop prices helped boost this commercial fishing port’s catch to $81 million in 2010, an increase of slightly more than 10 percent over 2009.

“The catch is the same. It’s just that the price is better,” said Tom McNulty Jr., 30, of Middle Township, who works on the family-owned scallop boat Negotiator.

The 2010 data kept Cape May — including docks in Wildwood — the second largest port on the East Coast behind New Bedford, Mass., which retained its No. 1 ranking with $306 million in catch. New Bedford, also a large scallop port, totaled $249 million in fish in 2009.

Massachusetts remained the top state for scallops by harvesting 31.2 million pounds of the 57.5-million-pound U.S. catch. New Jersey was No. 2 at 14.2 million pounds.

Cape May’s $81 million is what the fishermen are paid, but the federal government says the value increases sixfold as fisheries’ products make their way to wholesalers, retailers, and consumers.

McNulty returned to port Thursday from a five-day fishing trip to an ocean area known as the Hudson Canyon. The Negotiator returned with its limit of 18,000 pounds of sea scallops and unloaded them at Cold Spring Fish & Supply on Schellenger’s Landing.

But it isn’t the catch that resulted in Port of Cape May’s total increasing from $73.4 million in 2009 to $81 million in 2010. The average price paid for East Coast scallops jumped from $6.59 to $7.92 per pound during the year. The 2010 fisheries data are just being released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and there are indications that 2011 will be an even better year.

Keith Laudeman, who owns the dock where McNulty unloaded Thursday, said scallop prices have gone above $10 a pound at times this year.

“It’s good. It’s always good when you get more for your product. Scallops are in all the restaurants wherever you go in the country. You go anywhere now and they’re on the menu and I don’t see that changing,” Laudeman said.

Jeff Reichle, of Lund’s Fisheries on Ocean Drive, said the March tsunami in Japan has helped boost scallop prices even higher by hurting aquaculture operations in Japan. A weak dollar also helped scallop exports.

“Most people look at scallops as a luxury item that is still affordable,” Reichle said.

Squid also helped boost local catch. Lund’s Fisheries is New Jersey’s major squid company. California led squid catches with 286 million pounds, but New Jersey had the second highest catch at 20.3 million pounds.

Reichle said a weak dollar helped with exports of squid and other fish. The industry saw record prices for illex squid this summer, and Reichle said boats are looking for good fall fishing for loligo squid.

“We’re exporting more products all the time,” Reichle said.

Hampton Roads, Va., was the third largest port on the East Coast, trailing Cape May, 2010 data show.

Cape May did slip from the fifth largest port in the country to the seventh largest due to the phenomenal growth of the fishing industry in Alaska. Dutch Harbor-Unalaska, Kodiak, Naknek, Cordova, and Akutan are the five Alaskan ports ahead of Cape May.

“Alaska is very strong on salmon and halibut. Some vessels operate at huge scales, way beyond ours,” said Greg DiDomenico of the Garden State Seafood Association.

Still, DiDomenico said, optimism is high with scallop prices rising and quotas increasing next year for a number of fin fish, including fluke and scup, or porgy.

“What we’re getting back is the opportunity for our traditional winter trawl fisheries,” DiDomenico said.

Barnegat Light and Point Pleasant also saw increases in the value of the catch, but a decline in surf clams hurt the Port of Atlantic City.

Barnegat Light — which includes all of Long Beach Island — went from 8.1 million pounds worth $21.7 million in 2009 to 8.5 million pounds worth $25.8 million. Barnegat Light is one of the most diverse fishing ports, with scallops, tunas, swordfish, tilefish, monkfish, bluefish, bunker, croakers, spiny dogfish, and many other species. The port specializes in fresh fish and has a fleet of smaller boats that use nets to catch fish by their gills.

“You have really the last gillnet fleet in New Jersey,” DiDomenico said.

Barnegat Light was the 38th largest port in the U.S. in 2009 but moved up to No. 33 in 2010.

Atlantic City, which mostly has ocean clamming vessels, declined from No. 37 to No. 49 as inshore surf clam beds continue to disappear in New Jersey. The value of the Atlantic City catch dropped from $24.2 million in 2009 to $17.3 million in 2010.

Point Pleasant Beach, Ocean County, also registered gains with a jump from 18.4 million pounds worth $20.2 million to 20.9 million pounds worth $22.8 million. The port rose from No. 41 in the nation to No. 37. Point Pleasant Beach could continue rising with a big increase in the scup quota next year.

“It’s becoming a strong scup port. You have these guys going back to traditional trawl fisheries,” DiDomenico said.

Contact Richard Degener:

609-463-6711