June 10, 1997
Trends in and methods of commercial
the chart from the NMFS website shows,
East coast commercial landings have declined substantially since 1950.
While due to a number of interrelated factors, the decline is in large
part because all major East coast fisheries are now managed by state or
federal agencies. While fisheries were for the most part “wide open” prior
to passage of the Magnuson Fisheries Conservation and Management Act in
1976, commercial harvesters in particular have been subjected to increasing
controls on how, where and when they can fish and on what they can catch
since then. There are also greater restrictions on who can fish. While
the methods of commercial harvesting today - some of which are described
below - have been in use for generations, management measures and an increasing
awareness on the part of the fishermen that the ocean isn’t an endless
source of fresh seafood have combined to make commercial harvesting much
more selective than it was even a decade ago. The result is that fewer
fish are being harvested, and they are being harvested in a much more sustainable
Otter trawling is one of the oldest of New Jersey’s traditional net fisheries.
A boat, ranging in size from 40 to 100 plus feet in length depending on
the fishery, tows a funnel-shaped net through the water, herding the quarry
into a closed-off bag, commonly called a “cod end.” After a tow of up to
several hours the net is brought back to the boat and the catch, after
being spilled from the cod end, is sorted, cleaned and packed on ice or
in brine for the return to the dock. The sorting is necessary because in
this and most other commercial fisheries non-targeted species are taken
as well. These non-targeted species, collectively known as “by-catch” and
occasionally caught in relatively high numbers, are avoided by fishermen
whenever possible, representing wasted effort and added expense (and often
no economic return). Major research initiatives to eliminate bycatch or
to develop markets for it are ongoing in the otter trawl and other fisheries.
Trawls can be operated on the bottom or higher up in the water column.
Some of the primary species sought in the mid-Atlantic by trawlers are
silver hake, fluke, flounder, mackerel, squid and weakfish.
Trawling is regulated through limiting entry into
particular fisheries, closed areas and/or seasons and by mesh requirements
in the whole net or in the cod end.
- The majority of scallops landed on the East coast are caught with scallop
dredges, large steel constructions that are towed across the bottom, “scraping”
up the scallops that are found there. The dredge consists of a rigid forward
framework behind which is attached a bag made of steel rings. After a tow
the dredge is hauled on board, the bag emptied and the catch sorted. Usually
the scallops are shucked on board, the white muscles that consumers in
the U.S. know as scallops being retained and the shell and other waste
being returned to the ocean. However, a small but growing market exists
for scallops “in-the-shell” and boats will sometimes keep part of the catch
unshucked to supply it.
Scallop fishing is managed by entry limits, closed
seasons and minimum size via the diameter of the rings in the bag.
Hydraulic dredges are similar to the mechanical dredges used by scallopers
with one modification. A manifold is mounted on the front of the dredge
with nozzles directed downwards. Water from a pump on the dredge boat is
ejected from the nozzles at high pressure, stirring up and “fluidizing”
the sand in front of the dredge and allowing it to capture the clams that
normally burrow in the bottom. The two mid-Atlantic species sought by hydraulic
dredge boats are surf clams and ocean quohogs.
The surf clam and ocean quohog fisheries are two
of the most “specialized” on the East coast, requiring vessels that aren’t
suited for any other fisheries and providing a product that has virtually
no demand when fresh and in the shell (these clams are used in clam strips,
in chowders, and in the many products requiring minced or chopped clams).
One of the most valuable cash crops harvested from New Jersey’s waters,
surf clams and ocean quohogs are the primary ingredient in canned and frozen
clam products sold worldwide.
The surf clam/ocean quohog fisheries are managed
through limits on the number of boats allowed to participate, gear restrictions
and strict quotas.
This is a hook and line fishery in which baited hooks are suspended at
intervals from a horizontal “long line” which is hauled in after a set
period of time. The pelagic longline boats based in New Jersey harvest
tunas and swordfish in the upper part of the water column and fish anywhere
on our side of the North Atlantic. The boats in the directed (meaning they
fish exclusively for) shark fishery also use longlines on the surface,
generally closer in. Tilefish longline boats set their gear on the bottom
in the deeper waters of the continental shelf. Longline caught fish are
among the highest quality available due to the one-at-a-time handling characterizing
The longline fisheries are managed through a variety
of measures, primarily quotas, seasonal closures and limits on the number
of boats allowed to participate and, with several other fisheries, participate
in official on-board observer programs.
Sometimes confused with the huge open-ocean drift gillnets that were indicted
as indiscriminate killers of marine life several years back (and subsequently
banned in most waters), the inshore gillnetting fleet in New Jersey is
characterized by smaller boats making one day trips and landing limited
amounts of high quality products like weakfish, monkfish, shad and bluefish.
Gillnets are vertical panels of netting, suspended either at or under the
surface, that entangle the fish that swim into them. The fishermen periodically
haul the nets into the boat, removing the fish and returning the nets to
the water to continue fishing. The gillnet fishermen being familiar with
the migratory patterns of the fish the are seeking, this is a “clean” fishery.
Gillnet fisheries are managed through limited
entry, closed seasons, and net length and mesh restrictions.
Trap and pot fisheries
Several bottom-dwelling fish and shellfish species are harvested in wooden
or wire traps in New Jersey’s waters. Whether lobsters, crabs, whelks,
sea bass or tautog are the quarry, the traps work the same way. A large,
funnel-shaped opening allows the catch into the trap - either seeking bait
or shelter - but prevents it from getting back out. The traps range in
size from smaller crab pots used by baymen in New Jersey’s estuaries to
the large offshore lobster pots that are set in several hundreds of feet
of water offshore. Trap caught fish and shellfish are of the highest quality,
still alive when landed and often kept alive until bought by the consumer.
The trap fishery is regulated through seasonal
and area closures and through the use of escape vents allowing immature
fish or shellfish to escape. To avoid so-called ghost fishing, where a
trap that is unavoidably lost by a fisherman lays on the bottom and continues
to trap fish or shellfish, traps must now have doors which automatically
open after being submerged for a certain time.
New Jersey FishNet is supported
by the Cape May Seafood Producer’s Association, The Family and Friends
of Commercial Fishermen, the Fishermen’s Dock Cooperative, Lund’s Fishery,
the National Fisheries Institute and Viking Village Dock