A perfect and punishing storm


SeafoodSource staff

Published on
February 4, 2013

Parsons Seafood wasn’t built in a day, but Superstorm Sandy nearly destroyed the century-old shellfish farming and wholesaler in less than 24 hours.\

With its relentless one-two, water-and-wind punches, the largest Atlantic hurricane on record pummeled the New Jersey shore at Tuckerton on Oct. 29, leveling the business’s oyster hatchery and sending a surge of sea water 4 feet high into its wholesale storefront.

“We lost about 15 to 20 percent of our field-grow operations, but it didn’t take everything,” says Dale Parsons, who oversees the family’s now-battered $4 million aquaculture business. “A hatchery is like a musical instrument that anyone can put together to make it work, but fine tuning it for the right result takes a long time. We’ll lose at least a year getting it back.”

Like many shellfish operations on the Jersey shore, Parsons’ harvesting is at a standstill — not as a result of infrastructure damage, but because of contaminants found in Tuckerton Bay’s waters by U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspectors. As of late December, that technical knockout had Parsons and his crews working without pay since Sandy blew ashore.

“Right now it’s been eight weeks without a paycheck for me, and none of us around here has gotten any unemployment yet,” says Parsons. “[FDA officials don’t] even know what it is that’s in the water, but until that’s gone, we can’t harvest. And we have no idea when we can start again.”

Parsons’ story is similar to other Northeastern U.S. shellfish beds damaged by what meteorologists have dubbed “the real perfect storm.” After becoming a hurricane on Oct. 22, it churned northward through the Caribbean, lashing Jamaica and Cuba with flooding rains and 110 mph winds. Despite hurricane warnings for nearly the entire U.S. East Coast, it stayed far enough from shore that damage to North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Delaware was minimal.

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