By Lauren Wanko
This is the first time commercial fisherman Gary Stone is back to work at the Belford Seafood Cooperative since Hurricane Sandy made landfall more than three weeks ago.
“If we don’t land any fish on the dock we don’t make any money,” Stone said.
That’s why Stone headed to Montauk right after the storm hit. He needed an operational dock and ice machine.
“I got $10,000 a month in bills and five kids to feed. I can’t, can you stay home for three weeks? I can’t. If I don’t work the bills don’t get paid,” Stone said.
“Sandy hit Belford harder then any storm ever hit back in history,” said Belford Seafood Cooperative General Manager Joseph Branin. “Sandy came in one end of the building and went out the other end, took all the doors out, took the refrigeration, the electrical, it was just total, total devastation.”
The fishermen are grateful none of the boats were damaged, but everything else was destroyed. Branin says the co-op is operating on last summer’s profits and the loss of the entire fishing market, which is typically open seven days a week, is a devastating blow.
Belford Seafood Co-op’s restaurant was washed away by the storm. Branin says despite the damage he hopes the restaurant will be rebuilt and operational by May or June.
“We had deck here that seated 100 people for dinner as part of our restaurant, which as you can see is gone and it’s over in the parking lot 400 yards away,” said commercial fisherman Roy Diehl.
Diehl has worked in the industry for 30 years. “It will be a couple of weeks to get the money coming back in so we’ll probably be looking at the middle of December before our first paycheck,” he said.
“It’s devastating. Everybody’s devastated around here,” said commercial fisherman Richard Isaksen. “How are we going to go to work? There’s no way to go to work here.”
Branin hasn’t determined the overall cost of the damage. He says every day the team picks up the pieces and works to rebuild. When the fishermen aren’t at the co-op making repairs, many are home trying to salvage whatever Sandy didn’t take from them.
As for Stone, he says he’s determined to stay strong for his family and fight what often feels like an uphill battle. “We gotta keep climbing or we’re gonna fall down,” he said.