By Lauren Wanko
It’s a quiet morning at Spike’s Fishery in Point Pleasant Beach. Quiet’s the new normal for party fishing boat Captain David Riback since Sandy slammed the coast.
“None of us have ever seen anything like this,” Riback said. “I’ve never seen a year where we’ve had six weeks with no blue fish and a whole summer with no customers.”
Business is down more than 50 percent on the Queen Mary and neighboring party boats are also hurting. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports New Jersey’s fishing industry suffered $78 million to $121 million in uninsured losses from Superstorm Sandy.
“Since Hurricane Sandy, the first few months, many people just figured we were not in business and still to this day at least three or four times a week I’ll get a call, ‘Are you guys still in business?'” Riback explained.
This season’s wet weather hasn’t helped and until last week, Captain Riback says there haven’t been any fish to catch. The veteran captain insists this summer the vacationers seem as scarce as the fish.
“There’s so many less rental homes that were available for this summer. This time of year it’s tourists, we get a lot of families. They’re here in town for a week or two and they’ll take a day and go fishing. Well, they’re not here,” Riback said.
It’s a similar story farther up the Parkway. Miss Belmar Captain Len Forsyth says business has been horrible.
“It’s off more than 50 percent, probably close to 70 percent because nights are way down, nights are almost non-existent,” Forsyth said.
Regulars can’t help but notice.
“I’ve gone out the past couple of weeks and I’ve been on empty boats,” said Phil Rice of Ocean.
“You really can’t change prices. I mean fuel’s up to almost $4 a gallon, which is higher than it was last year,” said Golden Eagle Captain Richard Falcone. “As long as fuel costs go up and you know you’re talking about burning 100 or 150 gallons a trip, that’s a lot of money.”
If New Jersey’s party boats are suffering, so are the businesses that depend on them. NOAA estimates businesses that support recreational fishing suffered anywhere from $62 million to $105 million in damages.
Pete Meyers manufactures jigs and sells the products in more than 150 stores throughout the East Coast.
“Our sales just the head boats alone from April to now, which is the spring quote into the summer season, is probably down in the neighborhood of 50 to 60 percent and the same thing goes with the stores,” Meyers said.
Meyers sells his products at the Fishermans Den in Belmar. Business is down here 35 to 40 percent and the management was forced to cut back on the number of hours for their summer employees.
“We all figured it’s not gonna be a great year no matter what happens. Right from the beginning, we knew that and it was just a matter of surviving,” said Bob Matthews, manager of Fisherman’s Den.
Surviving is something these party boat captains are determined to do. All they can hope for now is good weather and fish that’ll bite.