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November 19, 2012

Post-Hurricane Sandy Update: Is Jersey Fishing Industry Rebounding?

Outdoor Writer Reports on Losses, Bright Spots for Coastal Recovery

Three weeks have passed since Hurricane Sandy’s shock-and-awe attack pounded the Jersey Shore, and the coast is still reeling, both figuratively and literally. Preliminary damage assessments suggest the superstorm might have been the most destructive in history; yet, recreational anglers are already bouncing back to fish. That hasn’t been easy.

“The comment we’ve heard over and over is, ‘We’ve never seen anything like it,’” said Scott Croft, spokesman for BoatUS. “It’s safe to say Sandy is going to surpass any other storm.”

And it very well could, with regard to boat destruction. According to the Marine Trades Association of New Jersey, more than 163,000 vessels are registered in the state, a quarter of which are located in the hardest-hit counties of Ocean and Monmouth.

Even more profound, the topography of the entire Jersey coast has completely shifted. Submerged jetties in the northern section from Bay Head up through Asbury Park have resurfaced bold and strong. Iconic Casino Pier and its legendary boardwalk in Seaside Heights, the Point Pleasant Boardwalk and sections of the Atlantic City Boardwalk are decimated beyond belief, where not even the board pilings survived.

The roller coaster at the end of Casino Pier collapsed and now rests in 20 feet of water, a testament to Sandy’s metal-twisting force and rage. An entire stretch of coast from Manasquan down through Island Beach State Park — roughly 25 miles — is quarantined and will remain inaccessible for up to eight months as National Guard crews in camouflage Humvees patrol with assault rifles, and monstrous front-end loaders continually upload and dispose of wreckage and debris.

Three new inlets cut through that stretch of sand by the storm have already been temporarily filled and bulkheaded. Strangely enough, the stretch at Long Beach Island from Barnegat Inlet south to Holgate might not have had the pure devastation of the central Jersey areas at Mantoloking, Normandy Beach and Lavallette, but five feet of ocean flooding have permanently condemned thousands of shops and homes.

From Ocean City down through Cape May, serious destruction had consumed the Victorian-themed bed-and-breakfast neighborhoods, but the demon was mainly flooding — not fire or pounding storm surge. That area is where most of the fishing is taking place.

“The problem has been finding a place to launch a boat, as marinas lost their docks or do not want to repair them for year’s end, and have shut down for the season now,” said Ed Bronstein from Fin-Atics Bait and Tackle in Ocean City. “Ocean City was one of the first places you could access the beach post-Sandy, so guys were surfcasting, but boating anglers are afraid to put their boats in, as whole houses, pilings, telephone poles and cars are floating in the channels and inlets, and offshore.”

Bronstein reported that the five-foot surge just missed the highly elevated foundation of his store, which sustained just minimal damage. But tackle shops in central Jersey, such as Alex’s Bait and Tackle on the Manasquan Inlet, have to make the difficult choice to rebuild or pack it in.

“My shop is gone. It’s so hard to hold it all together,” said a despondent Marc Palazzollo, owner of Alex’s. “But we will stand strong and rebuild bigger and better. Not this winter, but we hope to be up and running by Memorial Day.”

Other tackle shops, such as Grumpy’s Bait and Tackle in Seaside Heights, survived without much damage, but that shop and about a half-dozen others with it on the barrier island can’t open — the island is quarantined with water, gas and power shut off indefinitely.

On a positive note, the striped bass haven’t seemed to mind the newly formed coastline, as the Delaware Bay and Seaside Heights areas have been dishing up serious striper action. “Stripers are biting very well in the Delaware Bay,” said Matt Slobodjian from Jim’s Bait and Tackle in Cape May. “Fish are coming in from both the upper and lower bays and both sides, and many boats caught limits on Saturday with some really nice fish coming into the shop.”

Keith Hunt of Franklinville bested two of the nicest fish of the week — a bass of 38 pounds and a monster at 50 pounds. Slobodjian noted that earlier in the week, schools of bass were moving down the coast, and were being picked on the inshore lumps and around Hereford Inlet on jigs, trolling, and on clam baits.

Bronstein of Fin-Atics added: “There’s been quite a bit of fishing down our way. All the action seems to be between the Great Egg Inlet down through Corson’s Inlet. Guys who still have their boats in and can launch are anchoring up and chunking bunker to land bass from 13 to 22 pounds, along with some bluefish to 12 pounds.”

Though Sandy’s punch has knocked down Jersey’s recreational fishing industry, it hasn’t been a knockout blow. Businesses already seem to be on the rebound, and the fishing continues to be world class. As they say — Jersey strong!