On the Waterfront:
Restarting an Economic Engine

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The commercial seafood business in Gloucester County, Virginia has historically played an important role in the state’s seafood industry. Aberdeen Creek is an area which was once home to Gloucester Seafood, Inc., and is one of the few remaining commercial fishing unloading points in the County. But commercial work boats are having an increasingly difficult time navigating the Aberdeen Creek area. When a viable processing plant was located on Aberdeen Creek there was sufficient boat activity to create natural dredging which benefited all boat traffic. The property is currently owned, in part, by the County.

“Gloucester Seafood was an important facility at Aberdeen Creek. When they went under, the watermen could no longer unload there so the natural dredging didn’t take place. When boats stop coming and going, it gets filled in,” says Tom Murray, a recently retired Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) extension staff member who was affiliated with Virginia Sea Grant. “People in the community who are interested in economic activity, particularly in the seafood-related industry, wanted to see possible ways of funding ongoing dredging there, and also if it were re-vitalized what sort of economic impact it could have.”

In 2015, Murray conducted a study to determine if dredging the area of Aberdeen Creek would provide enough economic benefits to offset the costs. In addition, he looked at the possible economic impact of restoring a processing facility at the now defunct site.

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“A lot of value-added impacts such as taxes, jobs, etc. could occur if a wholesale and processing facility were restored...”

While compiling Aberdeen Creek Project-Restarting an Economic Engine, Murray conducted interviews with owners of seafood processing facilities in Gloucester County, and the middle peninsula. Information collected was used in an economic analysis software program to help determine expenditures, wages and salaries, and employment impacts.

“I was able to get numbers of crabs and oysters being off-loaded, and used those numbers to illustrate a small part of what could go on here. This is what they’re doing with no investment,” says Murray, “Then I then expanded those numbers to project what may be possible with investment in improving the existing assets.”

The potential economic impact figures are telling. But Murray says that keeping waterways navigable can have benefits beyond helping the businesses that presently use Aberdeen Creek. A new processing facility at the original site of Gloucester Seafood could provide an even stronger economic engine for the area.

"A lot of economic impact right now does not stay in the community. A lot of value-added impacts such as taxes, jobs, etc. could occur if a wholesale and processing facility were restored at that site,” said Murray.

The series “On the Waterfront” takes a look at economic assessments of Virginia’s infrastructure that supports water-dependent businesses, called working waterfronts.

By Kathy Oristaglio.  Photography by Dennis Quigley.