A little over a year ago, Superstorm Sandy hit the Mid-Atlantic coast of the United States. For New Jersey commercial gillnet fisherman Kevin Wark, the year has been one spent dealing with both professional hardship and personal loss. Kevin is owner/operator of the fishing vessel Dana Christine out of Barnegat Light, New Jersey, and a member of the Garden State Seafood Association.
Professionally, the storm cut into Kevin’s monkfish season as well as his croaker and lucrative menhaden fishing season. The bait fishery for menhaden was developed by Kevin as a cottage industry, working with select tackle stores. Superstorm Sandy effectively ended the recreational fishery for striped bass just as it was getting underway. This meant there was no need for bait, even if Kevin had been able to get out to catch them.
But more devastating than the professional losses were the personal ones. When the storm hit, it destroyed Kevin’s parent’s home in Ship Bottom – a home that his father had built, himself, nearly 50 years ago. Shortly afterward, Kevin’s father passed away.
“It’s been a struggle getting through these past several months,” said Kevin. “It really took a toll on my Dad when he lost the house. He just never recovered from it. “
Committed to the memory of his father and unwilling to let the storm get the best of him, Kevin took on the task of rebuilding. He rebuilt both his family home and a commercial property that his father had left him.
“I usually fish for monkfish in the fall and early winter,” said Kevin. “But in order to repair the damage to my family properties, I had to quit fishing early. I also lost time I typically spend repairing my fishing nets and other gear to get ready for the next fishing season.”
According to Kevin, what saved his fishing business was the fact that he didn’t just rely on one species. Active involvement in cooperative research also helped Kevin augment his fishing business.
“Starting around November, I went fishing for dogfish and skates. In the spring, I was involved in sturgeon sampling and then when the fall came around, I was able to fish for monkfish, croaker and menhaden again.”