As part of our effort to secure relief funding for the impacts to the recreational fishing sector in NJ & NY, we had the opportunity to tour some marinas and bait shops and meet with the owners first hand. Unfortunately, much of the current media attention has focused on the Jersey shore, but after living through IRENE last year and seeing how much water gets trapped in the western end of raritan Bay, I thought it was imperative to start way west and then proceed eastward towards The Sandy Hook area.
We started out in the Morgan Creek, Old Bridge township area and anyone that travels the Garden state parkway in this area has seen the grassy marshes that are now littered with powerboats and sailboats.
At each site, we were met by many contractors, boat appraisers, fork lifts, day laborers, marine divers and more. One marine appraisal vendor that was clearly overwhelmed with the workload and paperwork, said that they were brought in from Pennsylvania, along with over 40 other teams from other states and each of them was handing 1,500 claims each. Yes, thats 60,000 claims!
Aside from the boats, the key factor was the damage sustained by the dock pilings, small wooden finger docks and wooden walkways that surround most marinas. Many of these were merely picked up and moved hundreds of yards away by the nine foot wall of water that came through this area. Unfortunately, docking is one of the main sources of income and also, the most vulnerable. We learned that although it is possible to insure against this, few marinas opt in for the policy due its high cost. Amidst the devastation, it was encouraging to hear straight from the marina owners their optimistic comments about rebuilding and being ready for next spring, provided they receive federal aid.


Mike Wagner of Wagners marina brought us into his shop,  and he had the past storms waterlines marked. The 1992 storm was at his knee, last years storm, IRENE, was at his waist, he marked off the  superstorm SANDY waterline well over door height!
This lucky retreiver’s house was put back in place, but with a few extra feet added to it for insurance. As sad as all this was to see and hear about, it was reassuring to speak with people that had lost so much both at home and on the job and still retain the ability to smile a little and make a few wise cracks. The people of our bayshore are quietly proving themselves in the face of hardship, without help from anyone, even though they really need it. I truly admire them for being so strong when things seem so bleak. Not a single person mentioned anything about quiting or moving away, they just shrugged and focused on putting all the customers boats back where they belonged and starting over.
Even now, there seems like no end to the amount of water these folks have to deal with.We happen to be here at high tide a day after the new moon and the water seems to endlessly taunt the residents of this area.This was right across the street, which was flooded from the rising tide.
Crews have been working non stop at all the marinas since the storm and there are still dozens and dozens of boats strewn about.Moving out of Aberdeen and towards Keyport, we got the sense that the worse was yet to come.We had to detour around the flooded area to make it into town.
We got to the bottom of the hill off of the main drag and we saw what was left of the newly completed Steamboat Dock museum. We were saddened to to think of the all the towns local artifacts that were swept away with the tide. Later on we would find out that some of the museums prized photos, sealed in plastic, wound up a block away at Pederson’s marina mixed in with other debris and returned to them.


Keyports municipal boat launch ramp had its floating docks and surrounding area wrecked as well, so for those still inclined to fish what is left of what is normally prime time striper season, this is yet another ramp you can cross off the list. There used to be an office trailer here at the ramp, and that is nowhere to be seen.
Next stop was around the corner to the Historic Pederson Boat works and Marina. This place has been here through three generations of wooden boat building tradition. It was really sad to see what has happened here. The shop took a direct hit from the rising waters and if that wasn’t enough, a huge cruiser came with it, smashing right into the building.
We got to hear first hand from the Pederson Brothers, Wade & Gary, about what happened during the storm and how they are dealing with the devastating blow Sandy handed them.
They took us for a tour inside the main shop building and amongst other things, Gary mentioned that they had a 19 year old cat that dissapeared during the storm. With all that water and debris moving around they knew she didnt have a chance.They lost all hope and returned after the waters subsided to try and find her body somewhere in the rubble.  Sure enough, they heard a tired meow or two calling out from high up in the rafters, and there she was, coated with all kinds of marine oils and nastyness, alive and kicking!
That’s Chris Zeman, Mid Atlantic Fisheries management council’s New Jersey representative. Chris initiated the effort because he was not that hard hit in his home town up north and knew a lot of other recreational advocates were much worse off and had to deal with flooding and repairs to their buildings and boats. Only with strong support from Gov. Christie, NOAA, NJDEP, state and federal reps, NJ and NY rec and comm groups and local press were we able to get the declaration in just 16 days after the hurricane – that must be a record. Securing emergency federal aid for the recreational fishing sector is now a priority.  As an attorney by trade, he found an infrequently used portion of the Magnuson/Stevens act and put it into action. On his own time, he did the due diligence that is required to initiate federal aid for the recreational sector. When this is all over, many fishermen, charter boat, marina owners and countless others will be grateful for his selfless actions behind the scenes.
Important to note that Chris is standing with one of the Pederson’s infamous wooden lapstrake hull boats, hand built with mahogany over oak frames with solid teak trim. “Grace” was built in the early 60’s and is 40ft long. These boats are historic and very special to “boat people”. They just don’t build boats like this anymore, and to see these vessels ripped apart like this is truly heartbreaking.
The NY/NJ Baykeeper boat is based out of this marina and fortunately, the Pederson built boat that they use to patrol the Bight was in the mass of boats on land, but was spared serious damge. We met with Baykeeper Debbie Manns and talked about some of the pollution and other issues that Sandy has delivered to our bay.
From a fishermans perspective, the timing on this storm couldn’t have been any worse, The fall striped bass migration was in full swing the week before Sandy hit and after a long wait we were just starting to see many larger stripers coming into our waters.
Now, even if we could get out on the water, there are unmarked sunken boats all over the place, channel markers are gone and to add insult to injury, the water is polluted. NJ DEP issued a “do not eat fish advisory”. Aside from the non source point type of runoff pollution, we had 3 large oil spills come out of the Arthur Kill refinery area and dump directly into the bay. Needless to say, stocking your freezer with fresh striped bass for the winter is out of the question. Raritan Bay, north, south, east and west is in serious trouble.
With access to the water right now found somewhere between slim and none, the economic impacts of this storm are immeasurable, but will clearly hit the marina owners, charter boat operators, local bait & tackle shops and related businesses really hard.
Tackle shop owners that we spoke are suffering a different type of damage. With no electricity, they had to throw out thousands of dollars worth of bait like eels, bunker, squid, clams, crabs and worms. Worse yet, since so many fisherman have given up on the season early this year, they have no customers stopping in. All the normal, day to day walk in business is gone. It would be great if some of our readers would head over to the local shops and buy holiday gifts of tackle and gear and help these guys out.


Western Raritan Bays fishermen, tackle shop and marina owners have yet to see a news crew, a politician or even heard from anybody that could help them. The damage and destruction in this “Other Jersey shore” area has received much less press and attention, and despite their tireless efforts and positive views about recovery, it is hard to overlook the frustration they are feeling due to little outside communication from state and federal agencies about next steps and assistance.
District 6 was a bullseye of the storm surge – and we realize that Congressman Pallone’s team must be swamped with requests for assistance. Please reach out to these kind folks, listen and reassure them that you are working to help them rebuild our Raritan Bayshore to keep boaters boating and fishermen fishing!
Join us!