Leroy “Barney” Truex, a New Jersey surf clam fisherman who built Sea Watch International into the fishery’s biggest integrated harvesting and processing business, died Aug. 11 at age 70.
A lifelong resident of Mayetta, New Jersey, Truex grew up on the shore of Barnegat Bay with its traditional small-boat bay clamming fishery. In the mid-20th century entrepreneurial fishermen were building an offshore surf clam and ocean quahog industry. Truex went to work with his father Leroy Truex as a deck mate on surf clam vessels at age 16.
With his brother Martin Truex Sr., Barney Truex developed a fleet of clam vessels, based at Atlantic City, N.J. – known as Barney’s Dock – and other ports. In the early 1990s the East Coast sea clam fishery became a test case for the concept of individual transferable quotas, or ITQs – assigning shares of the clam resource to fishermen, based on their catch history in the fishery.
Truex Enterprises emerged as one of the winners in the ITQ shakeout. The system became the National Marine Fisheries Service’s model for assigning quota shares in the New England groundfish fleet and others.
Meanwhile Sea Watch was growing from a small shucking operation in Virginia to a 1986 purchase by Japan-based Nicheri. For years Truex Enterprises sold Sea Watch most of the clams for its products, and in 1999 Nicheri sold the Sea Watch operation to Truex.
“The union between Sea Watch and Truex Enterprises brought together the largest harvest capacity and the largest processor of Atlantic surf clams and ocean quahogs,” the company said in 2018, marking the 40th anniversary of its start in Virginia.
“This synergy had existed for many years prior as Truex Enterprises supplied the vast majority of live shell-stock to Sea Watch. Having this combined power under one team has presented many opportunities for Sea Watch and its customer base. Over the past 19 years, Sea Watch has grown fivefold through acquisitions and product line expansion.”
Truex served as senior owner of Sea Watch based in Easton, Maryland, during those years of new partnerships and innovative product development.
A dedicated outdoorsman who enjoyed hunting and recreational fishing, Truex had a longtime passion for driving race cars. He was a familiar figure in his number 59 modified class at the Wall Stadium, Pocono, Martinsville and New Egypt tracks in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
The Truex racing heritage went on to the big time with Barney Truex’s nephew Martin Truex Jr., the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series champion and a continuing national star on the tracks.
Barney Truex is survived by his wife Dolores; son Barney; daughter Tammy; daughter Amanda; and son Troy. He is also survived by his sister Robin, brother Martin, brother Curtis, sister Kyle, 10 grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren as well as many nephews and nieces.
Memorial services will be held at 1p.m. Sept. 9 at the Manahawkin Methodist church located at 116 Stafford Ave, Manahawkin, N.J. 08050.