Looking to build a coastal constituency in his bid for a U.S. Senate seat, state Sen. Joseph Kyrillos, R-Monmouth, visited with fishermen at the Viking Village docks today to learn more about their industry.
Kyrillos is challenging incumbent Sen. Robert Menendez, D-NJ, in the November election, and must widen his name recognition beyond his political base in Monmouth County. Amid heavy thunderstorms, Kyrillos' road trip today took him from Ocean County to Somers Point.
Built by scallops and tilefish, this 1.5-square-mile village at the tip of Long Beach Island accounts for more than 25 percent of New Jersey's annual $178 million in commercial seafood value.
"There's probably 400 or 500 people connected here in Barnegat Light alone" not counting captains, crews, truck drivers and others across Ocean County, dock manager Ernie Panacek told Kyrillos.
Borough Mayor Kirk O. Larson explained fishermen's good fortune with scallops, one seafood with a resilient high price in this recession -- driven in part by demand from Europe and Asia.
"It's a huge success," captain Peter Dolan of the scallop boat Miss Maya told Kyrillos.
Swordfish are another success story, with the northwest Atlantic stock now rebuilt; longline captains from Barnegat Light have long been masters of hunting the swordfish as far away as the Grand Banks.
"Where are they now?" Kyrillos asked.
"We can't tell you," quipped Fran Puskas, a member of the state Marine Fisheries Council.
On the other hand, fishermen are under pressure from fuel costs and government regulation, said fisherman James Gutowski.
"The regulation, I don't understand all of it, but I know you're over-regulated," said Kyrillos, who attended a march rally in Washington organized by recreational and commercial fishing groups who want changes to the federal fisheries law.
Kyrillos said he's been learning about nthe industry from Reps. Frank LoBiondo and Jon Runyan, both R-NJ.
In his first term, Runyan earned the respect of fishermen for being a quick study of their often complex issues, while LoBiondo is the longtime congressman representing the port of Cape May, one of the biggest in the country. Under New Jersey's congressional redistricting, LoBiondo is to begin representing Long Beach Island in 2013.
The fishing community directly feels the impact of Washington politics and presidential policies, Kyrillos noted. "Whoever picks the secretary of Commerce, that's the agency doing these regulations," he said.
"In a sense, Kyrillos said, "I want to move backward because history is better than what's coming up," Kyrillos told the fishermen. "As we move forward, we have to do it with an eye toward our history and traditions in this country. ... Keep me educated, keep me informed."