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Seafood Fans Shying Away During Beach Scares

September 1, 1987

WOODBURY, N.J. (AP) _ Many people are chomping on pork chops these days rather than taking a risk on seafood from the New Jersey shore, struck recently by a wave of beach closings, garbage slicks and dead dolphins.

But state officials said Monday there’s nothing wrong with New Jersey’s shellfish and salt-water fish harvest.

″There are no problems. It really does not affect them. That’s something that’s got to get out to the public,″ said Bruce Halgren, acting chief of the Bureau of Marine Fisheries.

And Gale Critchlow, chief of the Bureau of Shellfisheries, said the clams and crabs being scooped out of the New Jersey bays are perfectly safe to eat despite this summer’s beach problems.

″The pollution has been a terrible thing, but it’s not done anything that we’re concerned about,″ Ms. Chitchlow said. ″But it’s made people think twice about what they’re eating or breathing or sitting in.″

But some seafood restaurants and retailers say their business is in a slump because of last month’s problems.

″We’re doing half the business. Everybody’s spooked. Nobody’s buying fish because they see everything washing up,″ said John DelloBuono, owner of the Fisherman’s Hook fish store in West Deptford, five miles from this South Jersey town.

DelloBuono said his sales dropped off sharply about three weeks ago, when hospital wastes such as used syringes, and tampon applicators and used condoms floated ashore.

A week later, high fecal coliform bacteria counts closed Atlantic City beaches for about three days.

And since June, hundreds of bottlenose dolphins have washed up dead from Virginia to New Jersey suffering from a bacterial infection thought to be aggravated by pollution.

″I would eat (the seafood) because I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it,″ DelloBuono said. ″But many people are afraid.″

That’s why customers at the Fish Palace in Ventnor City have been shying away from crabs and clams, said owner Jill Martella.

″They don’t want to buy it with all that (stuff) that’s washing up. I’ve never seen it this bad.″

Ms. Martella said her customers know she gets her flounder and other fish from Philadelphia and New York, but that the shellfish comes from New Jersey waters.

″People ask if they’re local. I’m not going to lie to them, I tell them yes,″ she said. ″They walk away.″

Joseph Gordon, owner of Randall’s Seafood in Pleasantville, said consumer fear of shellfish is unfounded.

New Jersey clams and crabs are harvested from bay waters, not the ocean, he said.

″The bays have been very healthy. The crabs and the clams have been good. We have no problems,″ he said. Clams, of which Gordon’s company handles about a million a month, also are subject to strict health codes enforced by state health inspectors, Gordon said.

Halgren gave two reasons why the pollution wouldn’t contaminate fish. First, the pollution might get into the animal’s gut but not into the flesh or the meat in such a short period of time.

Second, most people cook their fish to further destroy any unhealthy organisms.

That may explain why Mark Ryan, general manager of the Cold Spring Fish & Supply Co. in Cape May, said swordfish and flounder from local waters are his best-sellers this season despite the pollution.

Ryan said like many New Jersey residents he won’t go in the water but will eat the fish.

His comment: ″It doesn’t make sense, does it?″

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