When the covid-19 pandemic sent graphic designer Britton Spark back home to Long Beach Island, N.J., the creative void in his life had to be filled.

“I felt stalled. There wasn’t any reason to make stuff,” said Spark.

He and his girlfriend, Anna Panacek, began taking morning walks in Barnegat Light, where she had family connections at the Viking Village fishing dock. There the solution hit Spark.

“I thought, ‘How cool would it be to document this?’” Spark recalled.

The F/V Capt. John heads toward Barnegat Inlet, bound for the Nantucket Lightship Closed Area South. The boat was named after one of the Viking Village founders and built by his family to honor his legacy. Britton Spark photo.

Growing up in nearby Harvey Cedars, the dock was “something I always took for granted,” said Spark. But seeing the buzz of daily activity up close, he began toting his camera.

“I’m probably at the docks five days a week,” said Spark, who posts his Instagram photos @couchchronicles. He says the imagery has been a hit with readers “who never saw fishing in that light… so the response has been really cool from non-fishermen. They just love following the project.”

At the northern tip of the island, Barnegat Inlet was dubbed Barendegat — or Inlet of the Breakers — by Dutch explorers in the 17th century. Partially tamed by Army Corps of Engineers jetties in the latter 20th century, the channel is a lifeline for a fleet of around 40 commercial fishing vessels based at Viking Village and nearby Lighthouse Marina.

In 1927, several Scandinavian fishermen formed the Independent Fish Co., a location later renamed Viking Village. In the mid-1970s the late captains John Larson and Louis Puskas, who had pioneered a new tilefish fishery, purchased the dock.

“I honestly loved it. It was so much fun, and there was so much opportunity to make money there,” said Anna Panacek, daughter of dock manager Ernie Panacek and John Larson’s granddaughter. “It has absolutely defined hard work. It has taught me so much.”

Today, Barnegat Light scores fifth place among East Coast ports in scallop landings at $20 million in 2018 — 83 percent of the port’s total value of $24 million, according to Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council documents.

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