Southern Cape May County’s commercial fishing industry is worth $85 million, according to a recently released federal report.
The combined port of Cape May and Wildwood is the ninth largest commercial fishing port in the United States and the second biggest on the East Coast, measured by dollar value.
In a county known as a tourism hub, commercial fishing — and especially the scallop trade — is a big part of the area’s economy, those in the industry say.
“It trickles down through the whole economy,” said Tom McNulty Jr., 36, of Middle Township, who captains a pair of scallop boats.
Commercial fishermen landed 47 million pounds of seafood at the Cape May port in 2016, according to a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
That’s 30 million pounds less than the port pulled in the year before, but in terms of dollars, the 2016 catch was worth about $13 million more, according to the report. The Cape May port ranked ninth in the country both years.
Since 2013, the county’s commercial fishing industry has grown by $50 million, despite fluctuating pound totals.
“What’s driving that big dollar amount is the scallop business,” said Keith Laudeman, president of Cold Spring Fish and Supply Co., a major seafood supply company in Lower Township.
The benefits of the commercial fishing industry stretch beyond those directly involved in the business, Laudeman and McNulty said.
Fishermen need to buy fuel and groceries for every trip and hire welders and electricians to repair their boats, which creates additional jobs, Laudeman said.
“Tourism gets all the publicity, but scallops and the seafood business in southern Cape May County is a big deal,” Laudeman said.
McNulty told The Press of Atlantic City earlier this year he needs $3,500 in groceries, 16,000 gallons of fuel and 25 to 30 tons of ice for a single trip. Scallop boats can be on the water for as long as two weeks.
So far this year, Laudeman said, scallop prices have dropped from their highs in 2016 because fishermen have been netting more of them.
“It’s supply and demand,” McNulty said.
“It’s a really healthy resource,” Laudeman added. “We work with the government in setting our quotas.”
Though scallops dominate, Laudeman said, his company also buys other species from fishermen, including flounder, sea bass, porgy and squid.
Southern Cape May County isn’t South Jersey’s only commercial fishing hotbed.
Atlantic City and the combined port of Long Beach Island and Barnegat are in the top 60 most valuable seafood landing spots in the nation, according to the NOAA report.
In Atlantic City, where commercial fishermen mainly target clams, the total 2016 landings were 24 million pounds, about 2 million pounds less than the year before, according to the report. The value of the port’s catch increased slightly to $19.7 million.
Fishermen working out of Long Beach Island and Barnegat pulled in 7.2 million pounds worth about $27 million, the report indicates. It’s an increase of about 1 million pounds and $2 million compared to 2015 numbers.