Cape May is the second busiest site for the off-loading of seafood on the East Coast. Approximately 11-million pounds of seafood are off-loaded annually at Fisherman’s Wharf for distribution to points throughout the globe: 600,000 pounds of flounder, 120,000 pounds of lobster, 1.5 million pounds of sea scallops, and massive quantities of at least 18 other seafood varieties pass through the plant on its way to plates world-wide.
When people sit down to enjoy a meal consisting of a fine fillet of sole, or lobster, or clams and other treats from the sea, they are partaking in the final step of an arduous progression through a major industry.
The seafood industry, which includes the dangerous occupation of commercial fishing, the processing and wholesale distribution of catches, and retail sales to consumers by shops and restaurants, is a vital and well-established aspect of life on Cape Island. Second only to the tourism industry, the Port of Cape May — which includes Wildwood and the stretch of Lower Township that lies between the two communities — is the second busiest site for the off-loading of seafood on the East Coast. New Bedford, Massachusetts, is number one.
Commercial fishing vessels and their crews from East Coast ports including clammers, lobstermen, scallopers and net fishermen, stop here throughout the year to off-load their catches.
The major fishing and processing operations in Cape May include Lund Fisheries, Atlantic Cape Fisheries and Axelsson and Johnson, all on Ocean Drive, as well as the Cold Spring Fish and Supply Co. and its associated Lobster House operation located on Fisherman’s Wharf at Schellenger’s Landing.
Commercial fishing is dangerous — very dangerous. Just last month, a local fisherman working aboard a vessel out of Atlantic Cape Fisheries was washed overboard in rough seas. A thorough search by the Coast Guard and other fishing vessels proved fruitless and he was presumed lost.
Through the decades, many Cape May fishing families have lost loved ones to the sea. A 22-day period between December of 1998 and January of 1999 saw five commercial fishing vessels sink and 11 lives lost.
When the 33-foot Predator sank on its way back to Ocean City, Maryland, one man was lost and one rescued.
The four men aboard the 84-foot Beth Dee Bob on its way back to Point Pleasant, New Jersey and the four aboard the 74-foot Adriatic returning to Atlantic City were all lost when their vessels foundered. And the 105-foot Cape Fear went down off New Bedford, Massachusetts, with two men lost and three survivors. A fishermen’s memorial dedicated to those lost at sea stands at the end of Missouri Avenue in Cape May. A stone statue of a woman with two children gaze across the harbor towards the sea. Often, it is found surrounded by fresh flowers put there by friends and relatives.
Despite the danger, the industry continues to thrive. Seafood is caught, processed and distributed so that people can enjoy a fine meal on any given day of the year.
The Cold Spring Fish and Supply Company and its associated Lobster House operation are among the most frequented sites for visitors to Cape Island. This enterprise, owned by the Laudeman family, encompasses all aspects of the seafood industry from fishing to the dinner plate. The company owns three commercial fishing vessels and about 20 independent boats.
From humble beginnings as a one-man operation, the business now employs about 500 people at the height of the season. Its goes back about some 75 years.
Jesse Laudeman, born in the late 1890s, moved from Philadelphia to Wildwood in 1926 and started a wholesale fish business which he operated from Otten’s Harbor. He moved to the Two Mile Dock on Ocean Drive several years later.
In 1939, he purchased the Cape May dock (known today as Fisherman’s Wharf) from the Reading Railroad. The property contained Bateman’s Restaurant and a marine bar, which Laudeman leased out while running his wholesale fish operation. Jesse, his wife Veaud and his 21-year-old son Wally took over the 60-seat restaurant in 1953 and renamed it The Lobster House. Over the years the family expanded the restaurant to the 650-seat facility it is today.
The Grand Bank Schooner American was acquired and moored to Fisherman’s Wharf in 1965, a seafood take-out was added in 1970, the Raw Bar becoming part of the operation in 1985.
Approximately 11-million pounds of seafood are off-loaded annually at Fisherman’s Wharf for distribution to points throughout the globe. 600,000 pounds of flounder, 120,000 pounds of lobster, and 1.5 million pounds of sea scallops as well as numerous quantities of at least 18 other seafood varieties pass through the plant on its way to stores throughout the world. A good portion ends up in markets within a 300 to 400-mile radius of Cape May.
The processing, distribution and supply operation consists of a packing house, an ice-making plant, a cutting room, and conveyer belts to move the fish from point to point within the facility.
The Lobster House Restaurant and its Fish Market also purchase a great deal of seafood to supply its large operation. Most visitors to Cape May don’t leave the island without dining at the Lobster House, or stopping for a plate of clams-on-the-half-shell at the scenic raw bar, or without a “goodie” bag from the fish market or take-out counter.
The Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts (MAC), well-known for its various tours of historic Cape May, also provides tours of the Laudeman operation. They are scheduled at 11 a.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from June 20 through the end of summer.