Viking Village was founded in the 1920's by first generation Norwegian fishermen and was at that time primarily a lobster fishing co-op known as the Independent Fish Company. After several years when the lobsters began to get scarce John and Ole Larson found they could modify the gear to catch sea bass and that fishery flourished well into the 50's. Over the years as the dock grew, it evolved into scallop, gillnet and longline fishing that characterizes our operation today.
In 1975 the facility, by then named Viking Village, was purchased by Capt. John Larson Jr. and Capt. Lou Puskas. The two friends had pioneered tilefishing in the Mid-Atlantic and were operating out of Meyers Dock at 6th Street in Barnegat Light. Forced to leave 6th St. when the party boat season opened for the summer, they seized the opportunity to buy Viking Village when it arose.
Shortly after incurring the substantial debt necessary to buy the dock, Capt. Lou and Capt. John were heading out in their boats into deteriorating weather for a tilefish trip and as the weather worsened Lou suggested that the two boats should probably turn back....whereupon John replied, you know what Lou, we have a payment to make.... we can't afford to turn back !
Did you know that Viking Village is one of the largest suppliers of fish and seafood on the Eastern Seaboard? Barnegat Light is not the sleepy little fishing town that most people think. Each year over 4 million pounds of seafood are packed out over the commercial dock of Viking Village and shipped not only locally, but to many parts of the world.
Viking Village is home port to seven scallopers, 10 longliners and about nine inshore-fishing net boats. Each boat is independently owned and uses Viking Village for pack-out, marketing and sale of the catch.
A group of Scandinavians who immigrated here in the 1920s originally named it Independent Dock. They chose the Barnegat Light area because it reminded them so much of their homeland, where they were fishermen. Over the years, many types of seafood have been brought in. Today, the majority of the catch consists of scallops, tuna, swordfish, tilefish and different kinds of in-shore fish, such as weakfish, monkfish, blues, shad and dogfish. Codfish, once a major catch, have been virtually fished out of local fishing grounds, mostly because of the foreign trawlers that were allowed to fish here in the 1960s and '70s.
The scallopers bring in about 555,500 pounds per year. The boats are out for eight to ten days at a stretch with an average crew of seven. The boats tow the ocean floor with a chain mesh for a period of time after which the chain mesh is winched on board; the crew removes the meat from the scallop shells. Recently, a market has been found for the red roe of the scallop. It is carefully boxed and iced at sea, and most of it is shipped to France, where it is served in only the finest restaurants.
Longlining, as the name implies, involves the use of a "long line" and a series of baited hooks. Longliners bring in many types of fish, including bigeye and yellowfin tuna, tilefish, and swordfish. At Viking Village alone they account for about I, 174,000 pounds per year. The bigeye tuna, sometimes weighing in over 250 pounds, can bring up to $20 per pound wholesale in the Japanese markets. It is considered a delicacy because of its high fat content, which the yellowfin cannot equal. Tilefish were once considered extinct in the 1950s but had made a come back in the 1970s. Today's catch of tilefish is only about 5 percent of what was landed in the '70s.
The net boats are smaller vessels used to catch blues, weakfish, monkfish, dogfish and shad. Unlike longliners and scallopers, net boats return to port after a day's catch. Dogfish is a relatively new commodity to pass over Viking Village's docks. Once considered only a trash fish, they now are caught and shipped to Europe and China. The fins are used by the Chinese, and the body of the fish is shipped to France and England to be processed into what is know there as "Fish 'n Chips."
Since new markets have opened up, now only 40 percent of Viking Village's catch is shipped to the Fulton Fish Marker in New York City. The remainder is shipped up and down the East Coast with a good percentage going over seas. Some local restaurants and seafood dealers, such as Wida's, Surf City Fishery, Beach Haven Fishery and Cassidy's Fish Market, are direct purchasers of Viking Village's products.
Ernie Panacek, manager of Viking Village, stresses how all of the boats strive to bring in only high quality products. Considerable money is spent on upgrading refrigeration and other storage both on the boat and at the dock. Each boat captain is responsible for the quality of his catch. The higher the quality he brings to port, the higher his paycheck.
Viking Village and the boats docked there employ about 200 people, making it one of Long Beach Island's larger businesses.