from: Social and Cultural Impact Assessment of the Highly Migratory Species Fisheries Management Plan and the Amendment to the Atlantic Billfish Fisheries Management Plan


Doug Wilson and Bonnie J. McCay

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Barnegat Light is one of the 11 municipalities on Long Beach Island, a large "barrier beach" island that helps form the seaward boundary of Barnegat Bay. This small town with less than one square mile in area is located on the northern end of the barrier island. The town is named after its famous lighthouse that guided ships for generations along the New Jersey coast. The name Barnegat originates from "Barende-gat," a Dutch name meaning "inlet of breakers" (Beck, Henry Charlton, 1963).

Until recently in order to reach the ocean, boats had to go through one of New Jersey's narrow and often dangerous inlets, a factor that has worked against major maritime development, in contrast with beach-oriented tourism. In 1995, the infamous inlet’s fierce currents were tamed by the forty-five million dollar Army Corps of Engineers project that constructed a south jetty along with a three-quarter- mile beach, a fishing pier, and affords bird watching opportunities (Beacon, 1994). Commercial and recreational fishing have a long tradition here, as they once did in the community of Beach Haven on Long Beach Island, which is now only private boat marinas and residential condominiums.



According to the 1990 Census, this small seashore town, with less than one square mile in area, has a population of 681 (U.S. Bureau of the Census). There are 1.8 males for each female.

Racial and Ethnic Composition

The major race of the town is White, comprising 99.6% of the population. The Black component makes up the remaining fraction of a percent for the racial composition. American Indian, Eskimo, Asian, Pacific Islander and any other races are not represented in the racial composition of the Barnegat Light population.

The ethnic composition, based on single ancestry, is primarily European. German ancestry has the highest percentage with 12.2%. The second highest ranked ancestry, which is Irish (4.7%), is followed by three ancestries in close percentage range: English (3.8%), Italian (3.1%), and Polish (2.8%).

Age Structure

The age structure in Barnegat Light is that of an aging population. Thirty-three percent of the population is between age 15 to 44. The 45 to 64 years age bracket and the 65 and over age bracket, which are the two eldest cohorts, comprise 57% of the population. The remaining population are under age 15.


According to the 1990 Census, 60% of the population of Barnegat Light 15 years and older are presently married. Nineteen percent have never been married, 11% are divorced and 9% are widowed. Of those who are widowed, 72% are women and only 28% are men.

Housing Composition

According to the 1990 Census, Barnegat Light has 342 households with an average of 1.99 persons per household. Out of this total, there are approximately 62% family households and 38% non-family households. Table 4.3 gives additional household information for Barnegat Light.

Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census
Total Number of Households
Average Number of Persons per Household
Percent of Married-couple Family Households
Percent with own children under 18
Percent of Male Householder Family Households
Percent with own children under 18
Percent of Female Householder Family Households
Percent with own children under 18
Percent of Non-family Households
Percent of Householders Sixty-five or older

According to the 1990 Census, the total number of housing units in Barnegat Light is 1,187, of which 28% are occupied and 62% are vacant. Of the occupied housing units, approximately 82% are owner-occupied and 18% are renter-occupied. Over three quarters of the vacant housing units (86%) are used for seasonal or recreational use. Table 4.4 gives additional housing information for Barnegat Light.

Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census
Total Housing Units
Owner-occupied Units
Median Value
Renter-occupied Units
Median Contract Rent
Vacant Housing Units
Housing Units Vacant for Seasonal Use

Education Trends

In terms of educational attainment, 84.9% of the persons 25 years and older are high school graduates. Table 4.5 gives additional information on the educational attainments of the residents of Barnegat Light.

Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census
# of Persons
% of Population 
25 Years and Over 
Less than 9th grade
9th to 12th grade, no diploma
High school graduate (includes equivalency)
Some college, no degree
Associate degree
Bachelor's degree
Graduate or professional degree

Economic Characteristics

Income According to the 1990 Census, the per capita income for Barnegat Light in 1989 was $25,973. This level of income is in line with the per capita income of Brielle ($24,027), but is considerably higher than the per capita income for the state ($18,714).

Employment Of the residents 16 years and older, 51% participate in the civilian labor force. The unemployment rate for Barnegat Light is only 1% of the civilian labor force; this is considerably lower than the state unemployment rate (5.7%).

In looking even closer at the workforce through examining the worker’s class, 64.1% of the number employed comprise the private for profit wage and salary workers; self-employed workers are 21% of the working population.

Employment by Industry The highest percentages of employment by occupation are managerial/professional with 32.4% and technicians/administrative with 31.4%. Precision production, craft, and repair, which has 13.9 %, is the third ranking occupation. Farming, forestry, and fishing occupations has 10.3%. Table 4.6 gives additional information on the industries in Barnegat Light form the 1990 Census.

Local Business In looking at the small town of Barnegat Light, it becomes apparent that the small businesses are very reliant on the summer tourist economy and the year round fishing industry. This is apparent with all of the summer and beach houses, the seashore shops and convenience stores along the main boulevard to and through Barnegat Light. The tourist surf shops, souvenir shops, small grocery and convenience stores, fish markets, and even the electronics and repair shops advertise goods and service catering to the needs of their consumers. It also becomes apparent that the town relies fixedly on its commercial fishing industry year round. According to a resident, the commercial fishing becomes the stalwart economic sector for the town in the winter through employing as many as 150 local people to work at the marinas.

Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census
Sector # Employed % Employed
Agriculture, forestry, and fisheries 
Manufacturing, nondurable goods
Manufacturing, durable goods 
Communications and other public utilities 
Wholesale trade 
Retail trade 
Finance, insurance, and real estate 
Business and repair services 
Personal services 
Entertainment and recreation services
Professional and related services 
Public administration 



Throughout the interviews and meetings, several citizens and business owners from the Barnegat Light community emphasized the significant role the fishing industry has in sustaining and preserving their community. The marinas are the major source of taxes for the community, according to representatives of the community's taxpayers association. Two of the five marinas are primarily dependent on the commercial fisheries. An owner of one of the marinas told us that 80% of their overall income comes from the commercial fishing industry, for fuel and other services. Although there is a lot of recreational fishing, the amount of fuel and other services sold to recreational fishermen is tiny compared with what is sold to commercial fishers. One marina owner said that for fuel, the ratio is about 40 or 50 commercial to one recreational. In addition, small businesses are able to stay open all year because of the fishing industry, and this has stabilized the community so that it has the lowest crime rate on the island.

According to another respondent, the fishing industry is an integral part of the social and economic livelihood of Barnegat Light. In examining the fishing industry of the town, Barnegat Light is one of Ocean County’s most important ports. Of the 1993 Ocean County Landings totaling 28.5 million tons, the port totaled 3.8 million but the value of these landings was $9.1 million dollars, which calculates to be 39% of the Ocean County landings value (New Jersey Department of Agriculture, 1995). Many members of the East Coast’s Longline fleet, scallop vessels, and a fleet of in-shore gillnetters reside at this port ( NJ FishNet, NJ Seafood Association). Recreational and charter boats also utilize and work from this port. The recreational and charter boat fishing industries landings, percentages, and values were not available for the port or county level. New Jersey’s statewide estimates for the marine recreational fishing are available in the State Profile section.

There are five marinas in Barnegat Light. The two largest docks have 36 full-time resident commercial boats, approximately 40 recreational and charter boats, and some transients. Commercial fishing boats work out of these docks year round. The three remaining docks can each accommodate approximately 30- 35 boats, most of which are recreational boats and charter/ party boats, with a few headboats. Most of the recreational and sportfishing fishing boats that utilize this port are here for part of the year, usually from May or June through early October.

One dock is completely occupied by commercial boats, the owners are also commercial fishermen. These commercial boats include seven scallopers, ten longliners that fish for tuna, swordfish, and tilefish, and about nine inshore-fishing net boats. All the boats are privately owned (New Jersey Fishing, New Jersey FishNet). Three offloading stations are part of this dock. During the slow to steady seasons, five or six locally hired full-time employees, the boat captain and crew perform the offloading. Additionally, dock hands are hired locally for the busy season. The choice for marketing and sale of the fresh fish can either be done by the captain or by the owners of the dock. The owners of the dock sell some of the catch to fresh fish markets in Boston, Philadelphia, Maryland and New York with the remaining being sold to local restaurants, retailers, wholesalers or at their own fish market, which is open from April to October (McCay, 1993).

The second of the largest docks accommodates ten commercial boats, fifteen charter boats, and twenty-five recreational vessels. This dock is primarily an offloading facility and can accommodate up to five vessels for offloading. During offloading, there are two people working the docks to help the captain and crew. The marketing and sales of the fish is done by the boat captain, who sells the fresh fish to local fish markets (McCay, 1993).

The Barnegat Light port is known for its offshore longliner fishery. Today it focuses on the tunas (yellowfin, bigeye) for most of the year and swordfish part of the year. A few continue bottom longlining, for tilefish, caught in deep waters of the outer continental shelf and canyons. The longlining tradition derives from a winter handline and longline fishery for cod, which lasted through the first part of this century and was prosecuted by Scandinavian immigrants among others. Tilefish were well known by the old-timers of Barnegat Light but markets were poor. In 1969 a captain began tilefishing again. In the early 1970s he and others cooperated in successfully creating a domestic market for tilefish, and this soon emerged as a major focus of the longliners of Barnegat Light, as well as Montauk, New York and, more recently, Point Judith, Rhode Island. The fleets developed rapidly, attracting even some of the charter boat fishermen. They diversified into pelagic longlining, for swordfish and tunas, as tilefish catch rates diminished. Others moved into sea scalloping.

Although Barnegat Light is mainly a longliner fishing community, there is also a small group of coastal gill-netters plus seven large sea scallopers. And like all ports in the region, it has a significant recreational fishery, with an equally long tradition. The longliner fleet is side by side with the party boats at one of the docks. Indeed, one of the families is involved in both commercial and party boat fishing, including offshore "canyon" fishing for HMS. The HMS longliner fishery and the scallop fishery are the most important in economic and social terms. Consequently, declines in allowable catches, seasons, trip limits, and, for the scallopers, days-at-sea are threatening the fishing community. There are few viable options. According to the mayor, a commercial fishermen himself, "September 30th, it's doomed." That is when the actions required by the new overfishing requirements come into place for HMS and scallopers.

In regards the effects regulations and policy implementation have on the fishery, the regulatory system intensifies the economic marketing problems. The manager of one of a major local fish dock said that the management process creates derby fishing, through the opening and closing of seasons. This means that small businesses such as his have trouble keeping their markets. A good example is the shark management plan, which has two periods, one beginning January 1st, when boats in this area have no access, and the other beginning July 1st, when the rush for sharks results in a glut on the market. This is also true for weakfish and fluke management. Millions of dollars are lost, he said, because of derby fishing.

In terms of loss of revenue due to regulations, one resident commercial fishermen commented extensively on his personal losses due to the 1994 limit of 4,000 pounds per trip for harvesting Mako. His comments on the economic impact of the shark quota being cut in half were that he lost out on $25,000 in revenue each season. Then, he went on to comment further that when the 4000 pounds trip limit went into effect it stopped big vessels from operating. He also raised a point that each year the southern fleet overshoots their quota and the northern fleet must suffer. He questioned why make further cuts when he sees his catches have increased each season per hook set while the size remained the same. In his lifetime, he saw the striper taken from the commercial fishermen, the marlin, the sturgeon, and now serious cutbacks in swordfish, tuna, sharks, bluefish and every year more regulations on just about anything the commercial fishermen make a living on. Another resident added that charter/ party boats also suffer when they can not go out to fish. The entire fishing community is impacted. The sentiment of the fishermen seem to be that the federal government needs to let the "hardworking fishermen" make a living or "pay" the fishermen every time they are not allowed to fish for one of their target species.

Instances were shared of occasions when policy implementation practices damaged the economy of local businesses because the federal plan came out after or during the fishing fleet and local businesses made adjustments to gear, trip plans, and orders for costly supplies and equipment. Fishermen attempt to adjust and cooperate with the management plans for the betterment of the fish resource, but the fishermen expressed their frustration that soon after they make adjustments, either the regulations change or new regulations come into affect that further impact the commercial fisheries target species and reduce alternatives. The adjustments made by commercial fishermen are often the only alternatives to sustaining their interests and livelihood in the commercial fishing industry. Fishermen and their community have strong concerns that the commercial fisheries future is in jeopardy due to the management agency’s policy practices and implementation.

To the old-timers, the nature of the fishery has already changed profoundly in part because of the way regulations are applied, forcing people to specialize in different fisheries, rather than to be able to combine them or switch from one to the other. Now they are "boxed in," which increases pressure on fish. For example, the swordfish fishermen have nothing else to turn to; tuna quotas are way down and the market is poor for some of the tunas; there is a moratorium on tilefishing, hurting the longliners that moved away from that fishery in recent years; and the fishery for monkfish is very poor, with tight restrictions coming on line. Two local boats converted from swordfishing to monkfishing, at great expense, but failed to come in under the deadline for limited entry in that fishery. One option some captains from this port have taken is to go to other countries to fish, but that is not proving sustainable because once they have taught people in those countries, they are typically replaced by lower-cost captains.

Another change in the fishery is that crews, at least for the pelagic longliners and the scallopers, are less likely than before to come from local communities. Local job opportunities in construction and the service industries for tourism compete with working as a deckhand on a fishing boat, particularly with so many restrictions, declining catches, and poor markets, and thus crew come from other regions, where there are fewer opportunities, such as Nova Scotia, some of the southern states.

One sign of change in this fishing community that has intensified in the past 3 to 5 years is the loss of welders, woodworkers, mechanics, and others needed to support the fishereis. There used to be a full-time wleder and a couple of part-time welders in Barnegat Light. The full-time welder has been gone for over 3 years. Local carpenters have been gone for about 5 years. Whereas it once took a few minutes or maybe an hour or day to get help, now it can take a week. You can no longer get these services in town, or even within the region.

Some of the longliners of Barnegat Light have become distant-water operations, going to the Grand Banks of Newfoundland or even the waters off Greenland, as well as the Caribbean, Brazil, and other distant fishing grounds. The owner of one major fleet, of 6 longliners, left Barnegat Light recently. His vessels were among the dozen or so very large longliners that found a 31,600-trip limit too restrictive, and thus left the Atlantic Ocean for the Pacific Ocean.

Others strongly prefer to work closer to home, to take shorter trips. As one of the captains said, "I never wanted to be a gypsy, going to Puerto Rico, Hawaii, to fish." His father, one of the pioneers, explained further, "I never wanted any of our boats to go anywhere but Barnegat Light....We have our own troubles, no need to go someplace else to find it, " referring to troubles with crew, engine break downs, buyers in distant ports. The options of those who resist going to other ports are far more restricted. The HMS plan, to close all areas north of 39 degrees north, Toms Canyon to the Hague Line, to pelagic longliner fishing to protect bluefin tuna, is thus very scary to them.

Taking their boats to distant waters, as has the one fleet owner mentioned earlier, remains an option, but it is very disruptive of family and community --the loss of that fleet has already had major impacts on local businesses. Recognition of the links between the pelagic longline fishery and the community itself is a reason why those who run the fishing docks, together with leaders of the community, are struggling to find ways to deal with problems in the fisheries. Another concern of local residents is that decline or demise of the commercial fisheries is likely to transform the use of the waterfront, bringing in condominium development where marinas are now, an outcome which many long-term residents find undesirable. Even more, the fisheries are perceived as part of the identity of this community. Hence, that would be "the end of Barnegat Light as we know it." For fishing families, the changes are even more significant. As one said, "There's no future in it," and sons and daughters are being discouraged from going into the business.

The Barnegat Light fishing community is buffeted by regulatory, resource, and market changes. The recession in Japan has immediate and serious repercussions for the longline fishery, severely depressing export markets and causing problems in domestic markets as well, as foreign suppliers of tunas and swordfish turn to the U.S. market. A local importer said that the percentage of overseas fish in the domestic market for swordfish and tunas has gone from 10% to 90% in just a few years. A representative of the longliner fleet observed that even if there are no changes on September 30th, "this fishery is gone," unless there are significant advances made at ICCAT and in the markets.

Also, the import versus domestic fish issue is a sensitive area. Among the issues raised by owners, captains, and buyers is the requirement that all bluefin tuna, billfish, etcetera found dead on the longline be cut off and returned to the sea. A leading U.S.-based importer-exporter, headquartered in Barnegat Light, claimed that this poses an obstacle to cooperation at ICCAT, because other nations see the practice as "criminal." "We're the laughing stock of Spain, France..." Moreover, compliance with the law requiring discards of this by-catch (now, about 30% of the catch must be discarded) has led to accusations from conservationists and others that they are "murdering all those fish." One idea seen as promising is that of IBQs, or indivdiual by-catch quotas, for swordfish and sharks. People in the HMS fishery business at Barnegat Light agree that changes must be made, to deal with the by-catch problems, such as having a government observer on board and being allowed to take everything you catch. They also appear to recognize the need for industry stewardship, expressing concern about large takes of bluefin tuna on the spawning grounds; as well as the need to limit access in a fair way. They mention the cooperative research programs for black cod (sablefish) on the Pacific coast and attempts to obtain similar programs for Atlantic tunas, allowing the sale of dead by-catch with proceeds going into special funds for research, monitoring, et cetera.

Another, even larger, regulatory concern is, quite obviously, that they are being tightly regulated when fishers of HMS in other countries are not. A frequent topic of conversation is the apparent poor support of the U.S. for ICCAT, as for example in still allowing quota overages. This ties in with the issue of whether HMS fisheries in the Mediterranean and Eastern Atlantic affect the abundance and condition of fish in the Western Atlantic. The opinions of the people interviewed, as well as the position of the Bluewater Fishermen's Association, which represents most of the longliner fishermen of this coast, is that "it's one pool." The head of the local taxpayer's association, hearing the local fishing community discuss these problems at our interview, asked, "With all of these regulations, aren't we making life very difficult while importing the same fish from other countries? Where is the protection of the fish?"

The longliner fishing community is defensive about its practices with regards to by-catch. It is criticized for being "non-selective" and a major source of mortality for bluefin tuna, marlins, undersized swordfish, and other species. In turn, the captains note that when they are out there fishing for two or three weeks at a time, they have a strong economic incentive to key in on the best opportunities for "clean" catches. If they have high by-catches in one area, they move on.

The longliners see themselves as beleaguered whipping boys. They are already very vulnerable to losses of life and property at sea (viz. the popular new book, "The Perfect Storm," by Sebastian Junger; the recent loss of a local boat). They are increasingly vulnerable to other threats as well

Additionally, the point was raised that the United States has a small percentage of the global landings of species when compared to other countries. When framing the global landings issue, one respondent who is involved in the international marketing of fish responded by sharing what has been going on abroad. The respondents feel the United States fishermen are carrying a disproportionate burden under the regulations and management policies being proposed as well as under certain policies in practice for the small percentage of landings the United States commands in the global market.

Barnegat Light fishing community members interviewed also claimed that the environmental community has not adequately invested in the ICCAT management process, instead seeking to undermine it, relying more on the CITES process. What is needed is concerted effort on all parts to make the international program for HMS management work properly.

Some recognize the need to open up communications with others who fish for the same species, particularly the recreational fishing community spokespeople. The Recreational Fishing Alliance, in this area, is trying to get rid of longlining, but so far they have failed in their attempts to lobby congress for this. They are also concerned that the NMFS allows itself to become politicized in these battles, and they suggest that the science is under-used because of this. Other problems mentioned include discrepancies among the states in rules about selling fish, affecting the sense of inequity that pervades the commercial/recreational dispute. In Florida, New York, other states, there are few barriers.

In closing, one respondent expressed his feeling about the regulations’ effects on Barnegat Light in saying ,"For years, we have tried to maintain our town, our community and provide for our people, as opposed to other towns that are more transit towns. The laws seem to sacrifice the maintenance of our town." The respondents from the community of Barnegat Light were in agreement when they heard the respondent make the previous remark.



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