Scallopers face brutal weather for high-priced winter catch
By MIKE JACCARINO Staff Writer, (609) 978-2010
BARNEGAT LIGHT - He could barely feel his face. He couldn't feel his hands. But at least J.D. Blauvelt was home after 11 days at sea. Now all he and the six other crewmen of the Lindsay-L, a scallop boat out of the commercial fishing port here, Viking Village, had to do was unload 14,000 pounds of scallops Sunday.
Every year, the scallop boats are allowed 120 days to harvest the ocean's bottom for their catch. The limit is used to protect the species from overharvesting. Most of those days are used during the spring, summer and fall, or while milder weather prevails, but the owners of the boats, in this case, Kirk O. Larsen, who is also the mayor of the borough, will reserve a few days for the winter.
The reason for this practice, according to Jim Gutowski, the port's 40-year-old assistant manager for sales, is scallop prices may rise in January and February, as they did this year, and boat owners want the ability to take advantage of such favorable fluctuations in the market.
This summer scallops sold for $3 to $3.50 per pound, Viking Village officials said. Now they are bringing $4.50 to $5 per pound at market.
When temperatures trend toward freezing, as they have during the prior month, the strategy can make for excruciating working conditions. "It can come back to bite you," said Gutowski of saving days for the winter. "The weather those guys are subjecting themselves to out there is brutal."
Indeed, when temperatures fall to lows in the teens, as they have in recent weeks, the conditions are far worse on the open ocean, where there are no buildings or trees to shield a ship and its crew from the bitter wind. Asked for an assessment of the temperatures he experienced at sea, Blauvelt didn't hesitate: "Arctic," he said. "Probably 20 (degrees) below."
The conditions are so difficult that some Viking Village regulars who man the boats in the spring and summer opt not to go to sea during the winter, according to Gutowski, although the Lindsay-L has maintained the same crew for more than 18 months, whether it was cold or not.
The Lindsay-L left Jan. 21 and worked the scallop beds 30 to 80 miles offshore, the crew working 12 to 13 hour watches on deck, shucking and gutting the scallops after their removal from the ocean floor. Sometimes the intensity of the cold made these tasks difficult to accomplish because the scallops froze after their arrival on deck.
The ocean temperature remains above freezing even after the freezing point is reached on land.
The crew, said Larsen, hurried to shuck the last of their catch on their way to dock Sunday - unusual as the work is normally done while the scallops are brought on board - as temperatures then were warm enough to do so.
Following their shifts at sea, the crew, said Blauvelt, took comfort below deck from warmth provided by the engine. Spaces heaters in the ship's galley provided some warmth during meals. For Blauvelt, a 29-year-old from Manahawkin, this winter is his second aboard Viking Village's boats - and he is still learning the trade.
As the days prior to the boat's return to port ticked by, Blauvelt's thoughts turned a reunion with his wife, 30-year-old Dawn. It was then that he made a mistake of sorts, shaving off the thick beard he had grown to combat the winter winds to a more appealing and chiseled goatee.
"I was thinking about her," Blauvelt said, "but it was far colder without (the beard.) I won't do that again."
Still, his mistake did not diminish Blauvelt's anticipation of a homecoming in any way. On his way back to the boat, a land-based manager asked him what he was doing with the remainder of the morning. "Waiting for a hot tub and a beer," the sailor replied. The manager smiled and told him, "You deserve it."
Anyone Have Any Good Scallop Recipes ?
[ 02-04-2004, 02:54 PM: Message edited by: NIGHTSTRIKES ]