With the Belford Seafood Co-op as a backdrop, U.S. Congressman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-6th District) came to the Middletown shoreline Monday to talk about a bill that could help the storm-tossed fishing industry, still struggling to right itself after Sandy.
Pallone introduced today a federal disaster relief bill (NJ-06) to provide $193 million to fully fund the estimated cost to recover storm-affected fisheries in New Jersey and New York. New Jersey would get $121 million of that money.
The funding could be used by both commercial and recreational fishing industries -- to cover uninsured losses suffered during Hurricane Sandy, and to fix up marinas, rebuild public access docks for fishing, and rehabilitate bait and tackle shops.
"I don't have to tell you that the amount of damage that was done here at the co-op was extensive," said Pallone. "Not only the processing plant, the fish market, the restaurant, and also to the infrastructure. For the most part, they had no insurance."
The commercial fishermen who own, manage and operate the Belford Seafood Co-op, a landmark for 75 years, pull otter trawlers, gill netters, lobster boats and purse seiners right up to the fishing center to offload whiting, porgies, fluke, menhaden, squid, crabs and lobster off the boats.
Fresh food lovers flock to the retail fish market at the end of Port Monmouth Road to pick out fish right off the boat. On Monday afternoon, eight people patiently stood in line waiting to buy sea bass, flounder and mackerel, laid out on snowy ice.
But beyond the spare but tidy retail center, the fishing hub is struggling to keep afloat. Fishing captain Rich Isaksen said the floods caused by Sandy swept away 20-30 huge fishing nets, two fish pumps that pull the fish the boats, damaged pilings, ruined three forklifts and a conveyer belt. Half of the electricity is out. The fishery's second ice machine, a 31-ton freezer that will be essential come summertime, is kaput. The Pirate's Cove restaurant has not re-opened as usual this spring.
The bill proposed by Pallone is outside of the $50 billion Sandy Aid bill, of which $91 million has been set aside for flood control projects along Port Monmouth and Belford, and dredging of the federal channels, shared by both fishing boats and Belford Terminal ferries. Compton's Creek is also included. The hurricane swept silt and sand into the waterways.
The first phase of the project, slated to being in late 2013 or early 2014, includes dune restoration, beach replenishment, the construction of a terminal groin and extension of the fishing pier, involving roughly 400,000 cubic yards of sand. The larger flood control aspect of the project, which includes levees, floodwalls, a pumping station and a tide gate, will begin construction in early 2015.
A handful of residents told Pallone they feared their neighborhoods would not be able to endure the summertime hurricane season before the Army Corps of Engineers start work.
"We don't have a dune any more in Port Monmouth, down by the Spy House. It's just a straight line to the beach," said Port Monmouth resident Beth Perez, who had to shovel four inches of sand out of her basement after the water receded from Sandy. "Any time we have a high tide, a moon tide, I'm worried my house is going to flood again."