The seafood industry’s coronavirus crisis hit early in New Jersey, and Jeremy Muermann was making new calculations even before the crabs started moving around in Barnegat Bay.
“My motto for this whole thing has been just keep it small,” said Muermann, 42, who with his brother Jason, 38, works the bay with a 35-foot Chesapeake-built Evans. They stopped the winter dredge season two weeks early and talked with buyers to carefully gauge how the uncertain spring might pan out.
With supply chains from other Mid-Atlantic states stalled out, local demand was still surprisingly good. But supply disruptions worked the other way too, and menhaden for bait could be suddenly hard to locate.
“For the spring the market has been decent,” Muermann said in May, when the brothers pulled 12 to 20 bushels a night in their early season. “That’s not bad for this time of year.
“We’ve been told our shedder season is out… you’d think you’d be able to sell softshells. “It’s staying in New Jersey for the most part. A lot of it is going to the cities,” he said. “We’re going to have to get creative after Memorial Day, because everything will happen.”
Restaurant closings into the summer continued to hobble New Jersey fishermen. Muermann, clam growers and tilefish longliners took to social media to cross-promote their products, and Muermann helped his in-laws’ Shady Rest seafood restaurant keep their expanded take-out business going.
The brothers learned crabbing with their father, Bill Muermann, whose bushel crabs were a staple for summer residents in Ocean County beach resorts and bayside neighborhoods. In a family photo from 1983, Bill holds Jason on his shoulder by his truck alongside the road in Bayville, N.J.
“That’s where we started this business, with roadside stands,” Muermann said. “For a lot of people, it feels like we’re going back there.”