Reel Life: On the Docks at Barnegat Light

Tour the busy fishing docks of Viking Village.

Fishermen unload the day's catch from their boat's ice-filled hold.
Photo by Joe Polillo

Here are two fun facts about the Viking Village fishing docks at Barnegat Light. Which is harder to wrap your brain around? 1) Every year, fishing boats unload more than 5 million pounds of seafood at the dock. 2) The dock’s two massive ice houses churn out up to 60 tons of ice a day to keep the daily catch cold and fresh until it reaches market up and down the East Coast, in the Midwest, California and even Japan.

You can catch a glimpse of this never-ending bustle on the free tour Viking Village offers at 10 am every Friday, rain or shine, from the Friday after Fourth of July to the Friday before Labor Day. Veteran fisherman Karter Larson, whose parents founded Viking Village, begins the tour outside the main storage building by outlining the dock’s 90-year history and the several kinds of fishing done from there. Each year, the dock handles nearly 2 million pounds of scallops that are raked up from the ocean floor by boats dragging dredges.

The scallops are shucked, bagged and iced at sea. Tuna, tilefish, swordfish, yellowfin and bigeye tuna are caught on hooks played out at intervals along mile-long lines, while a variety of fish, including troll, are caught in nets. The tour moves on to the tin-roofed landing and grading areas, where fin fish are off-loaded “H&G,” which sounds more pleasant than what it stands for: headed & gutted.

Boats return to port at all hours, but Viking Village tries to schedule at least one boat to be off-loading during the tour. Since everything landed at Viking Village winds up on a plate, the tour includes a local chef demonstrating how to cook some of that day’s catch. Samples for all!

If you can’t get to Viking Village on a Friday morning, it’s fine to browse around on your own. “Just use your common sense,” Larson advises. “Stay out of the way of forklifts and any equipment that looks dangerous.”

On Saturday, June 28, Viking Village will host the Sixth Annual Jazzy Scallop and Seafood Festival from 2:30 to 5 pm. Local restaurants will offer seafood tastings as jazz bands entertain. Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 at the door. Proceeds help fund college scholarships for local high school students.

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