On Sept. 11, 2001, Ken McMullen was spotting fish in his plane 1,000 feet above Atlantic City, N.J., when another spotter told him a plane had struck the World Trade Center. Unaware of the magnitude of that event, McMullen flew up the coast toward New York City to take a look.
"I was there but a few minutes when an F-15 [fighter plane] buzzed by me," McMullen recalled. New York aviation officials instructed him to land immediately. That struck McMullen as a very good idea.
"I thought then that I needed to get the hell out of the sky because I might be shot down by some terrorist," he said, "or I might be shot down because someone thought I was a terrorist."
In the days following, McMullen's story became part of a report I compiled offering a snapshot of how the attacks affected the industry for our December 2001 issue, aided by contributing writers Larry Chowning, Kirk Moore and Richard Bard.
Air traffic was grounded for nearly a week after the attack, which disrupted seafood deliveries all over the country. Transportation woes softened demand for the expensive fish in restaurants and supermarkets.
In New York City, many of the Fulton Fish Market's 60 dealers were transferred to a remote parking lot in the Bronx. Business there plummeted by nearly 50 percent and suppliers and buyers endured tortuous traffic jams en route to their unfamiliar new Hunts Point location. They worked under floodlights powered by portable generators.
But we also learned how fishermen all over the country mobilized to aid 9/11 relief efforts.
Cordova, Alaska, fishermen partnered with Anchorage firefighters and sold 31,500 pounds of silver salmon at three area grocery stores in hopes of raising $100,000 for the families of New York City firefighters. In California, proceeds from the Morro Bay Commercial Fishermen's Association's annual fundraising barbecue were donated to the New York police and fire rescuers fund.
And Harbor Seafood, through the National Fisheries Institute, organized the Attack on America Relief Fund. It aimed to raise $250,000 to assist the families of fallen firefighters and police officers involved in rescue operations in New York and Washington, D.C. Some $80,000 was raised in one day alone.
I think that generosity and willingness to aid those who truly needed it speaks volumes about the fishing industry, and about all of us as a people, as a nation. I remember how in the aftermath, we were at our best. People didn't think twice about digging into their pockets to help others; I saw it happen. I suspect we all did.
I'll never forget watching TV with my colleagues here at the NF offices and seeing the surreal sight of the towers collapsing. But I'll also remember how after that terrible tragedy, people freely gave of themselves to help those who really needed it.