The Delaware Bay seafood industry’s once-bustling days are long gone, but hardy men still work the water with grit and dedication

Photographs and Text By Jay Fleming
From the September 2018 issue

feature-fleming-fisheriesSmall coastal towns like Little Creek, Port Mahon and Bowers Beach were built upon the Delaware Bay seafood industry that flourished amid bountiful oyster harvests in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

During that time, on the northern shore of the bay, New Jersey towns such as Bivalve, Money Island and Port Norris were home to more millionaires per capita than anywhere in the country — their wealth derived from the humble oyster.

Throughout the East Coast and Midwest, oysters from Delaware Bay were in high demand. The fishery, which seemed boundless back then, would later nearly collapse from diseases — MSX and Dermo — and decades of unregulated harvests.

The diminishing number of workboats and seafood processors along the bay’s shores mirrored the decline of the oyster industry. Watermen and those who processed their catch were forced to either abandon the business or diversify into different fisheries. Improvements in refrigeration and globalization of the seafood industry in the latter half of the 20th century helped the survivors serve markets farther afield. The Delaware Bay fisheries that exist now must continually adapt to ever tightening regulations, fluctuations in product availability, and changes in the marketplace.

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