Pierless Fish Tours Viking Village in Barnegat Light, NJ

Last week, we were lucky enough to take some of our customers and team here at Pierless Fish to tour one of our major suppliers. Located in southern New Jersey on Long Beach Island, Viking Village is an active dock with boats working with many different types of species and gear here on the East Coast. We were able to see the F/V Elizabeth packing out 100% dry sea scallops and tour the scalloper F/V Ms Manya with captain Pete Dolan. We were also able to speak with captain and owner Mike Johnson of the F/V Sea Farmer, a pelagic longliner preparing for a 6-day trip at sea fishing for primarily swordfish and tuna. Viking Village is also home to other pelagic longliners, many day-trip gillnet boats, and more scallopers, both multi-day and 1-day trip boats. A tour of the facility was provided by Ernie Panacek and other members of their staff, showing us details on grading tuna and scallops, as well as ice production and logistics. A fun, educational experience for everyone, we hope to visit again soon. See some photos of our day:

 

Touring the F/V Ms Manya

Captain Pete Dolan showing us the pilothouse of the F/V Ms Manya

Packing out scallops from the F/V Elizabeth

Grading scallops for size and quality

Speaking with owner/captain Mike Johnson of the F/V Sea Farmer

 

 

Alaskan Sockeye Salmon

 



The name ‘sockeye’ is thought to have come from the tribal word ‘sukkai’, for ‘red fish,’ which is the color these salmon change to when spawning. Sockeye salmon are also known as blueback (in regards to their coloring for most of their lives, pictured above) or summer sockeye (when they are most plentiful). As a species of fish that is anadromous, sockeye salmon are born in freshwater rivers and lakes, they then migrate to saltwater in the open ocean. At the end of their life, they migrate back to the freshwater where they were born, to spawn.

As one of Alaska’s most important industries, policies for all species of salmon are extensively managed by field-based, biological research and analysis. Since the 1970’s, fishery management practices have been put in place to make harvesting all stocks of salmon sustainable, supporting tens of thousands of jobs for the state as well as significant economic activity.

One of the sources of our sockeye salmon is from the fishery located in Yakutat, Alaska. This small town is located in the south- eastern, coastal area of the state, facing the Gulf of Alaska. In this small town, with a population of about 700 people, the majority of the inhabitants are involved in the commercial salmon fishery, mainly for sockeye. Fishermen use gillnet and seines primarily, though a small hydraulic longline can also be used, a version of hook and line, sometimes referred to as a “hook boat.” The largest sockeye salmon fishery, Bristol Bay, is located northwest of Yukatat. Located farther south along the coast is Sitka, Alaska, another source for our salmon.

Of all the Pacific salmon, sockeye is second in fat content only to the chinook, or king salmon, and has beautiful, bright orange-red meat. It is a smaller fish compared to the chinook, many times coming in less than ten pounds, and the meat is firm, rich and flavorful.


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Wahoo from New Jersey

As one of the fastest fish in the ocean, wahoo are long, beautifully striped fish, dark steel blue along their back, fading to a silvery-blue belly with vertical iridescent lines along their torso. Their large mouths are filled with compact, finely serrated triangular teeth, a characteristic that compliments their impressive speed when hunting. They mainly feed on fish such as herring, frigate mackerel, and butterfish, but also squid. Much of the commercial catch of wahoo comes from the Pacific, mainly Hawaii, though much of our supply is caught right here off the east coast, many times the coast of New Jersey. Wahoo is generally a bycatch of longlining boats, out to catch swordfish and tuna. They usually swim alone or in small, loose packs of a few fish, but rarely in large schools.

Wahoo populations have the ability to mature into spawning adults and reproduce rapidly (about 1 year), much like mahi-mahi populations. Recreational and commercial catches involve proper permitting and harvest limits, though there are no formal stock assessments for the species because their populations are believed to be so high. Wahoo continues to thrive within these management boundaries, a well-balanced relationship between fish and fishermen.

Pictured here is Frederico on our production team, unloading a recent fresh delivery of wahoo from southern New Jersey.

A close relative of king mackerel, the meat of wahoo is lighter in color and milder in flavor, with a large, circular flake. Wahoo is also known by its Hawaiian name "ono," meaning good to eat, or delicious. It cooks up white and is great baked or grilled, also very popularly used in fish tacos.

Wreckfish from South Carolina

The Atlantic wreckfish resembles a grouper or bass, and inhabits deep waters of the Eastern Seaboard’s continental shelf, as well as other waters internationally. Though they can be found from the Grand Banks to Argentina, most commercial landings are from the Charleston Bump, located about 90 miles southeast of Charleston, South Carolina. The Charlston bump is a series of overhangs, cliffs, dropoffs and caves that allow wreckfish to hide while hunting for fish exploring the dark, cool waters just outside the Gulf Stream. A cloudy, reflective layer behind their eyes allows them to be super-sensitive to light, able to ambush prey who can’t see as well in the depths of dark water (up to 3,300 feet).

A 30lb wreckfish and fillet.

The U.S. wreckfish fishery is possibly the most sustainable fishery in the world. There are less than 10 boats with commercial wreckfish licenses, and each boat is issued a specific quota for the entire year. Fisherman are limited to using bandit rigs, which are large hydraulic reels that send a vertical cable line and multiple baited circle hooks nearly 1,500 feet to the bottom. This creates a very selective method of fishing that results in nearly zero environmental impact or bycatch. Wreckfish also have no known predators.

Most wreckfish are between 20 and 60 pounds, but can reach weights of well over 200 pounds. This average large size helps create thick, meaty fillets and impressive portions. The meat of wreckfish is much like grouper -- firm, white, and mild with large flakes. The cold, deep water they live in also imparts a clean, slightly sweet taste to the fillet.

 

East Coast Swordfish

While Atlantic swordfish can be caught domestically as far as off the coast of Texas in the Gulf of Mexico, we source most of our swordfish from the mid-Atlantic here on the East Coast. In the late 1990’s, fishery management policies were put in place to rebuild depleted swordfish populations. For a number of years now, the local east coast population has been reliably increasing and in 2013, was declared to be over target levels by 14%. Atlantic swordfish have been an incredible fishery management success story over the last 20 years.

As their name implies, swordfish have a long, flattened bill that looks like a sword, which is used mainly to stun and injure prey in the water while swimming at speeds of up to 50mph. Commercial fishermen set a long line of hooks (about 40 miles) overnight with glowsticks attached, which attract small fish and squid, and in turn, swordfish. The commercial longline fishery has minimal environmental impact, since the line rests only in the water column. It also uses advanced technology like sonar and GPS, as well as specifically developed gear to avoid contact with animals like turtles and dolphins.

Swordfish is just one of those fish that really has no equal. With a dense, steak-like texture that is moist and hearty with a mild savory flavor and a high fat content, it’s nearly impossible to find someone who wouldn’t enjoy eating it. Its dense, steak-like texture is fatty and delicious, perfect for the grill. Try some out this weekend! It's available by the pound here on our website, shipped overnight to you fresh, never frozen.

Viking Village Monkfish

Before the 1980's, fishermen using trawls and scallop dredges who brought up monkfish weren't sure what to make of them. The modest beginning of monkfish as a bycatch, or an unintentional harvest, in the United States in no way foretold its present-day success. Upon discovering a muscular tail, meaty cheek pockets, and an enormous liver, the American monkfish, Lophius americanus, slowly made its way onto domestic tables here in the United States, as well as international ones. By the 1990's, it was the highest valued finfish in the Northeastern US, a place it has upheld since then. Through its course of discovery, depletion, rebuilding, and now stability and study, here’s a glimpse of the industry, from where it starts, to where it ends.


WHAT IS A MONKFISH? As what seems to be an enormous set of jaws covered in brown and olive-speckled skin, the monkfish lurks on the ocean floor, camouflaging itself, at depths reaching up to 3,000 feet. It dangles a small, lure-like appendage on what is a delicately thin, extended spine hanging in front of the monk's head. This “fishing pole and lure” setup is a distinguishing physical trait of the biological order of "anglerfish" worldwide. Its inward-facing teeth are designed to trap prey after an enveloping gulp.

The term anglerfish also doubles as a common name for monkfish in both America and Europe, though European monkfish are a different species, Lophius piscatorius. Other common names include goosefish, frog-fish, or sea-devil, among even stranger ones. With jaws and a stomach capable of eating prey longer than they are, the enormous monkfish head tapers back to a tail that seems to be a second thought. Though they're mostly hoping for crustaceans, mollusks, fish, diving ducks, and birds - cannibalism does occur within the species.

The monkfish's popularity, of course, did not catch on because of its good looks. Long ago another nickname, "poor-man's lobster," started, since the tail fillets and meaty pockets from its cheeks resemble the taste and appearance of lobster when cooked – dense, and clean, opaque white. The tail is mostly sold skinned, also stripped of the translucent purple-blue membrane that surrounds it. Monkfish meat it so dense that it is easily cubed and grilled without falling apart, though it is commonly braised or broiled.

And what about that huge liver? Generally over half a foot long and weighing more than a pound, ankimo, as it is referred to in Japan, is a celebrated delicacy. It is generally steamed and sliced, topped with scallions, ponzu, daikon, and momiji-oroshi, a spicy red pepper sauce. Soy is rarely used since the taste of the liver is so delicate. Monkfish liver is also used in soups and has multiple applications in sushi as well. Culinary purposes such as these are practiced most notably in Japan, though also widely in Korea.

BRIDGING GAPS

After their rise in the 1990’s, it became apparent that monkfish stocks in the Northeast were under exploitation, similar to the neighboring European species already depleted. Since the early 2000’s, however, the fishery has been highly successful in rebuilding then-declined monkfish populations in the US, now over target limits since 2008. Though monkfish as a fishery started as a bycatch itself (caught accidentally while fishing for something else), the actual term “bycatch” is generally something most professionals in the fishing industry want to avoid. What a lot of fishery legislation combats now is steering clear of vulnerable species enveloped by this term, including endangered species, populations under regrowth programs, and mammals. As the design of fishing gear becomes more and more specific to catching only one species, bycatch can be limited and fishermen can harvest just what they are targeting.

Little is known about anglers as a targeted species relating to their behavior, migration, and spawning patterns, making it difficult to design gear specific to them. Being primarily benthic, all anglers live in the deepest water on the ocean floor, making it difficult to find and study them.

In short – there’s plenty of monkfish, but how can we avoid catching all the other species that surround them?

Members of the monkfish industry collaborate with both the Cooperative Monkfish Research Program and the Monkfish Research Set-Aside Program (RSA). RSAs use no federal funding, but instead run on revenue generated from industry sales. This is made possible because of the collaboration and cooperation between industry fishing professionals and researchers – those studying species population, growth, movement, and so on. The New England and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Councils manage these allocations, along with guidance from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Some other fisheries using an RSA system include Atlantic sea scallops, herring, and black sea bass, among others. 

Not only are these scientific research-programs necessary in order to understand current conditions in US waters, they are one of the most critical aspects of future management and understanding, both for monkfish and also unwanted bycatch in the same waters. With this collaborative engagement between fisheries science and business, healthy, balanced fish stocks will be around for many years, with fishing practices further evolving to exclude vulnerable bycatch species as much as possible.

FROM THE OCEAN TO PIERLESS

Most monkfish carried by Pierless Fish comes from Viking Village, a seafood producer located in Barnegat Light, New Jersey, the northern-most town on Long Beach Island. With a rich cultural history and multiple generations of deeply involved, experienced fishermen, monkfish are one of many of the high-quality species landed.


Captain Chris Rainone bought the Annice Marie, a forty-foot gillnet boat, in 2006, and has called Viking Village his home port since then. Typically throwing off the lines at around 2am, him and his small crew steam over fifty miles east off the coast of New Jersey for about four hours; quite the commute. Gear is hauled out and in for most of the day, about eight hours, gutting, cleaning, and separating the livers of the monkfish as they are brought up. Chris' gillnets allow as much bycatch through the nets as possible. The nets are incorporated with specific types of links that reduce bycatch entanglement and entrapment, while also letting monkfish too small to harvest pass though. Most adult monkfish brought up are around two to three feet in length, though it's possible for them to be up to five feet.

Like most fishermen, Captain Rainone is under "days at sea" pressure, meaning he has a certain number of days his monkfish permit allows him to harvest. Additionally, there is a quota allocation, allowing him to only catch a certain poundage as well. As another detail that evokes industry strategy, monkfish livers are typically largest in the fall and early winter, which pushes boats to brave the winter weather settling in and use their days at sea to harvest fish with more liver weight to export.

When fishing quotas are established, harvesting an accepted poundage may be agreed upon, but within that tight boundary captains like Chris must make those trips out there count, since they only have a limited number of days to catch a certain number of fish. Allocating quotas to specific boats and areas that have unread or misread populations is one of many issues to consider. This is where the importance of the fishery's research and science comes into play, so as to correctly allocate quotas to certain coastal states and fishing vessels with concern also for where populations are.


Other targeted species Captain Rainone is after include bluefish, menhaden, and croakers, most of which depend on seasonality and migration through New Jersey waters. As quality is of upmost priority for the management at Viking Village and the vessels that dock there, this concept goes far beyond the attention to detail of each individual product. Quality seafood is about responsibility - of care and planning for the future fishery - as much as it is about an experienced crew and getting enough ice on a fresh catch.

Of course, this all directly translates to any fishery, but for monkfish, the quality and care from people like Chris and his crew is what upholds not only the value of the product in US and international markets, but also its longevity, which is of highest importance. Industry awareness and participation with those who are catching, selling, trading, and eating in restaurants or at home are what ensures a positive impact for years to come. With involvement from start to finish in fisheries management to consumers, the success of monkfish and its quality will continue to be an example of responsibly harvested seafood here in the US - the true meaning of sustainable fish.