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Efforts abound to promote New Jersey’s delicious seafood products
By Charles M. Kuperus
New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture

Click here to view the New Jersey Department of Agriculture report:
New
Jersey Fishing and Aquaculture: Harvesting the Garden State’s Water

9/9/05

When people think of New Jersey agriculture, they tend to envision the fertile valleys of the state’s northwestern region or the vast acreage of fruits and vegetables spread throughout South Jersey. Perhaps they think of peach orchards in Gloucester County or herds of dairy cows and horse farms.

The state’s coastal towns don’t immediately spring to mind when discussing the overall food and agriculture picture. But they should.

While they’re less likely to be home to vast orchards or fields of greens, these coastal towns are the perfect places for another sector of New Jersey agriculture – the seafood industry. As much as produce or dairy or horses, the industry is an integral part of our Garden State’s overall agricultural landscape.

The New Jersey Department of Agriculture has recently published a package of reports on the fish and shellfish industry in this state. That research found that the harvesting of fish and shellfish from open waters and the farming of seafood through aquaculture account for approximately $200 million annually paid to the fishermen, and a total contribution to the economy of $600 million. The reports can be found on the “Jersey Seafood” web page at www.jerseyseafood.nj.gov.

New Jersey is home to six major ports – Atlantic City, Barnegat Light, Belford, Cape May, Point Pleasant and Port Norris. It might surprise New Jerseyans to learn that Cape May is the sixth largest fishing port in the nation in terms of the value of the catch brought into that port.

The prominence of New Jersey seafood should not be that much of a surprise. All along the state’s coastline, you can find towns that grew up around the industry. From Atlantic Highlands and Barnegat to Absecon and Cape May, the imprint of the fishing industry lives on even as tourism and development occupy a growing portion of the landscape.

Last year, over 100 species of finfish and shellfish were harvested from the waters of the Garden State. Whether it is monkfish sold at markets in Korea or squid served in Madrid’s tapas restaurants, New Jersey seafood is prized throughout the world.

More than 1,500 vessels employing nearly 3,000 fishermen call New Jersey home. However, the impact of the industry doesn’t stop at the ports. New Jersey also boasts 15 seafood processing plants and 81 seafood wholesalers, together employing more than 2,200 workers.

Clearly, this is an economic engine that provides the state not only with income, but also a sense of history and an identifiable product desired by many. The Department of Agriculture has recognized this importance to our state and has worked for the past several years to more fully integrate the seafood industry as a part of agriculture.

For instance:

v In June 2004, the State Board of Agriculture adopted rules establishing an aquaculture policy framework to foster full development of the industry. The Department’s first implementation of that policy was to hold free workshops to assist people in obtaining Aquatic Farmer Licenses.

v In October 2004, the first Aquatic Farmer Licenses were issued. The licenses allow producers to demonstrate definitive ownership of the organisms being cultured, while also reducing the possibility of introduction of exotic pests that may be detrimental to wild stocks and other aquatic forms. To date, 156 licenses have been issued to aquatic farmers.

v Also in October 2004, the Department launched a “Jersey Seafood” website (www.jerseyseafood.nj.gov), where visitors can find seafood recipes, health and nutrition tips and a list of suppliers, exporters, importers and product research information.

v In January 2005, a series of economic development initiatives were promulgated by the Department, covering issues such as developing seafood restaurant promotions and branding, supporting direct marketing opportunities and aiding in the development of value-added seafood products.

v Also in early-2005, the USDA’s Rural Development Program partnered with the Department on a $47,100 grant to a group of seven aquaculture producers to market bagged clams under the “Jersey Seafood” label.

v In July 2004, the Department received a $61,000 USDA grant to investigate market opportunities for seafood and organically grown aquaculture products to help expand domestic markets and better meet the needs of an increasingly health-conscious consumer.

v In fall of 2004, the State Agriculture Development Committee adopted an Agricultural Management Practice for aquaculture that is based on the management practices and aquatic organism health plan published by Rutgers University.

v In July 2005, the Department received a $56,500 matching USDA grant to work with Rutgers University on projects aimed at promoting the live seafood market in the state. New Jersey’s growing Asian population, which prefers buying some seafood live, has created an expanded market for live seafood producers and purveyors.

Clearly, New Jersey’s fishing and aquaculture industry has seen its peaks and valleys throughout the years. Integrating the industry more into the state’s overall agricultural landscape, aggressively pursuing branding and marketing of seafood products and aiding in restoring the waterways that produce our fish and shellfish all will help bring New Jersey’s seafood industry to renewed vitality.


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