Belford: Fishing Co-Op Turns To Retail Sales With Restaurants Shut Down by Virus

Source: NJ.com

Fish of all shapes, sizes and stripes glisten from stainless holding bins at Belford Seafood Co-Op, reached by a narrow bumpy road that seems to head to the marshy middle of nowhere.

The Co-Op, two miles from Route 36 and a world away from the Jersey most of us know, is one of the state’s six commercial fishing ports, along with Point Pleasant Beach; Barnegat Light; Atlantic City; Cape May/Wildwood; and Port Norris.

Most of the co-op’s boats are named after wives and daughters. The youngest captain is in his mid-50s; four are in their 70s. The oldest is Gene Armstrong, 79, ″one of the hardest-working guys we’ve got,” according to Richard Isaksen, the co-op’s president and captain of the boat Isaetta.”He’s not too talkative, but he’s a legend.”

Co-op manager Dave Tauro works from a desk jammed with paperwork, bills, canisters of all-purpose cleaner and WD-40 lubricant, an adding machine, and binoculars. There is also a woolen cap with the words “Content Explicit,” so expect no punches to be pulled when he’s asked how the coronavirus has affected the seafood co-op and the fishermen on its 10 boats.

Most of the restaurants that depended on Belford’s fish have shut down, which has wreaked havoc on the co-op’s business. “The money we’re losing from last year to this year is astronomical,” he explains. “I’m looking at the numbers, I cannot believe how much we’ve lost.”

Belford Seafood Co-Op has applied for a PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loan, but it’s not hopeful they’ll get anything from the $660 billion program. “We don’t get anything from the government, we’re not going to survive,” Isaksen says. “We’re not looking for no handout, we’re just trying to stay in business.”

“When it comes to grants, they seem to skip this place,” Tauro agrees. “We’re one of the oldest fishing docks on the East Coast. We’re not the thriving dock we used to be. Any time there’s something free, it never makes it this far.”

However, Graham says that with restaurants being closed, “We’re selling to the public.” The co-op has seen many first-time customers in the past month — during the past week, they served 74 customers in one hour alone. Retail business, Graham says, has tripled in the past month.

You don’t have to call up to find out what fish are available; the co-op’s Facebook page tells all.

“We’re used to on a busy Saturday making $3,000 — now it’s $9,000,” Tauro says. “People (are) coming from all over the freaking state just to get out of the house.”

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