Contact: Lynne Richmond
(BARNEGAT LIGHT) -- Walk into almost any supermarket during the summer and consumers likely will see Jersey Fresh signs in the produce section. Step over to the seafood counter and customers will find that although New Jersey has 127 miles of coastline, there are little or no locally caught or harvested items.
“People want to know, now more than ever, where their food comes from and it can only be a win for both seafood producers and food retailers to highlight that their fish and shellfish were caught or harvested close to home,” said New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Charles M. Kuperus. “While Jersey Fresh is familiar to many, we have a growing Jersey Seafood brand, reflecting that our working waterfront is as critical to the state’s economy as our farmland.”
To highlight the state’s robust seafood industry, a group of 60 supermarket officials from A & P, Foodtown, Pathmark, Whole Foods, Food Circus and Wakefern/Shop-Rite visited Viking Village, a busy fishing dock in Barnegat Light at the northern tip of Long Beach Island, on May 2 for a short course on the state’s commercial fishing and aquaculture industries and to see what each has to offer them.
New Jersey has 182 licensed aquatic farmers, growing mainly clams, oysters and tilapia – a white-fleshed finfish. During their day at the dock, the supermarket people sampled Cape May Salt Oysters from Atlantic Cape Fisheries and farm-raised Baymen’s Pride clams.
“These guys are at a show in Italy, showcasing these oysters and clams to buyers overseas while people in New Jersey don’t even know how good this stuff is,” said one executive after slurping down a few of the half-shell delicacies.
New Jersey aquaculture farms reported sales of $3.7 million last year, with hard clams the principal farmed seafood with $2.1 million in sales, according to the 2005 Census of Aquaculture. The survey also showed there were 4,466 acres of saltwater in production and 51 acres of freshwater in production. Ninety percent of the farmers sold directly to consumers, 8 percent to wholesalers and distributors and 1 percent to other producers.
Retailers watched as tilefish were unloaded from a fishing boat. In 2005, New Jersey’s commercial seafood catch was worth $159 million, up $13 million from the year before. The top species harvested were sea scallops and surf clams.
Jim Gutowski of Viking Village told the group that scallops are a major catch for his fishermen. Gutowski said, after chatting with some Wakefern officials, they might look in to packaging their large sushi-grade sea scallops in one pound clear bags.
“They’re giving us ideas for what they need as far as packaging which will help get our seafood into their stores,” said Gutowski, a fishing boat captain and salesman at Viking Village. “Frozen, clear-pack scallops in one pound grab-and-go bags will fly off the shelves. There’s a lot of work to be done.”
Linda O’Dierno, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture’s Seafood Program Coordinator, gave the supermarket officials tips on how to better market the seafood in their counters.
“You want to build a lifetime customer who will come back to buy fish at your market twice a week,” O’Dierno told the group while standing at the fish market counter at Viking Village. “Customers do not understand seafood so you must make them feel comfortable; give them more information on how to handle, store and prepare seafood items.”
The Department provided each person attending the event with a bag of items to assist them in marketing locally caught or harvested seafood:
- Jersey Seafood wild harvest and aquaculture recipe and information cards
- By the Sea, Jersey Seafood children’s activities books that help young people learn all about fish and fishing in New Jersey
- New Jersey Fish and Seafood Cookbooks
- Jersey Seafood Suppliers Directories
- Jersey Seafood Point of Sale Materials
John Sportelli, director of fresh and frozen seafood at Pathmark, said his company is very interested in promoting local products across the board and is in the midst of a marketing campaign letting consumers know they sell locally-produced items.
“Offering fresh, high-quality products are paramount to our success,” said Sportelli. “One of the biggest obstacles we have is that people are afraid of seafood. They don’t know how to prepare it. The recipe cards that the Department of Agriculture produced and provided to us today will be helpful in educating consumers.”
Karen Ensle, the family and community health sciences educator from Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County, educated the retailers on the health benefits of eating seafood, assuring them that the benefits of eating seafood outweigh any potential risks.
“Fish is a low-fat source of high quality proteins and rich in Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids,” said Ensle. “There are concerns that people are not eating enough fish. Everyone should eat more seafood for good health and at least two servings of fatty fish to prevent cardiovascular disease.”
Secretary Kuperus stressed that much like the Jersey Fresh marketing program for produce and other products, the Jersey Seafood brand can be used to position the product in the marketplace not only for seafood producers, but for retailers who are committed to buying local.
“In seafood, freshness is critical and by being produced or harvested close to home, the product can be shipped to market quickly,” he said. “The fishing industry is an important sector of New Jersey’s economy and is part of our heritage and by working together with producers and retailers, it will be a part of our future.”
Viking Village, founded in the 1920’s, was chosen as the site for the retailers’ day at the dock due to the company’s commitment and investment in their industry. General Manager Ernie Panacek said they take pride in being leaders in a program to responsibly catch fish and scallops with the least impact on the environment and fish habitat. Viking Village is located in Barnegat Light, the second largest commercial fishing port in New Jersey. The state is home to six major ports. Cape May is the fifth largest port in the nation, bringing in 74.6 million pounds of seafood annually valued at $68.4 million in 2005.