New Jersey Ag News
Seafood co-op seeks more visibility in Monmouth
By RICHARD SKELLY
BELFORD (Jan. 1, 2017) — Patrons of farmers’ markets in Monmouth County and those who support the Grown in Monmouth campaign will be seeing a lot more of the Belford Seafood Co-Op in 2017.
The facility, nestled off Route 36 near the Sandy Hook Bay, has revamped its retail store and will be making efforts to make the organization more visible.
David Tauro is dock manager at Belford Seafood Co-Op, a group of about 20 commercial fishing companies that have been in business together since 1953.
Patrons of the retail store can find just about every kind of Atlantic coast seafood one can imagine, including flounder, cod, tuna, scallops, squid, crabs, lobster and numerous other products.
Scallops furnished by Belford Seafood Co-Op were recently included in a chef’s competition in Asbury Park organized by the Grown in Monmouth marketing initiative.
“We sell pretty much every kind of fish you can think of in the retail store and we also have a wholesale operation at which we sell all the fish caught in our local waters and out as far as 175 miles to the Hudson Canyon,” Tauro said in his office, near several huge walk-in freezer rooms.
The fish typically follow the Gulfstream, he said.
As water near the New Jersey coastline gets colder, whiting, fluke, bluefish, porgies and other fish swim with the warmer waters of the Gulfstream.
“The water can be 70 degrees out there. The canyon water is very deep and warmer and the fish follow it out as it gets colder here. You can be wearing a t-shirt out there in the middle of January,” said Tauro, an experienced commercial fisherman who has made many harvesting trips out to the Hudson Canyon.
He said it can take anywhere from 12 to 15 hours to get there, depending on the commercial vessel you’re on.
Within the Belford Seafood Co-Op, “we have a couple of lobsters guys, a couple of conch [snail] guys, they all do some crabbing in the winter and we have five or six bigger boats that go out on Hudson Canyon trips.”
“If it’s native to New Jersey bays and offshore to about 175 miles, we sell it,” he said, “we sell sand sharks, we sell skate bait and do a very big market of bunker, which is bait fish. The bait fish we ship as far down as Virginia and even further south.”
Tauro grew up in nearby Highlands, where he still lives, attended Rutgers University for a year, but left when the business of making money as a fisherman became a priority in his life.
He grew up on Shrewsbury Avenue and there was a soft clam plant at the end of his street.
The owner was also his elementary school teacher.
By the time he was 12 years old, he was clamming on his own and selling his catches to the local plant.
“One summer, I was 14, I made more money than both parents put together with my clamming,” Tauro said. “When they found all that money in my closet they thought I had robbed some place, but when I was 14 years old I was making anywhere from $100 to $150 a day clamming” in Sandy Hook Bay.
So what’s the state of the New Jersey seafood market and who are the customers at Belford Seafood Co-Op’s retail store, tucked away as it is on the bay and several miles from Route 36?
“A lot of our parents were immigrants so they were big fish people,” he said. “But the kids today, a generation or two after ours, they don’t come to the fish market and buy fish. Now we’re getting a lot more immigrants from Africa, and it used to be the Italians and Irish coming in here for fish. Now, we have Chinese, Japanese, African-Americans, Portuguese, they’re all here a lot and they all buy a lot of fish.”
Belford Seafood Co-Op’s two walk-in fridges can hold a half a million pounds of fish.
Many days, he’s shipping upwards of 20,000 pounds of fish to places like Lower Manhattan’s Fulton Fish Market.
“We’re one of the few establishments around here that sell whole fish,” he said, noting four large sushi restaurants buy direct from the cooperative.
Tauro and his employees have to follow strict guidelines in handling the seafood once it’s unloaded off the boats that return to the docks.
“There are standards for cleanliness and ice, we go by HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) certification, we note time, temperature, how long the fish are out of the water and when they land on the dock, I keep records for freshness and we’re required to do this by federal law,” he said.
Tauro, General Manager, Joe Brennan and retail store manager, Gina Graham, are working in tandem to promote and market the retail outlet.
Several large signs on less travelled roads off Route 36 direct drivers to the co-op, situated on Port Monmouth Road in Belford.
“When I got here it was very basic,” Graham said. “After Christmas we painted and had a photographer come in and take pictures of all our boats.
“We started doing the farmers’ markets and the Grown in Monmouth campaign and we started to promote a bit more,” she said, while noting she’ll keep records and call loyal customers when certain types of seafood come in.
“We have the best prices on the freshest fish because it’s direct. There is no middle-man here,” Tauro added.