Crab Island Fish Factory

Most abandoned factories are found at the ends of dirty old streets, often next to foul urban waterways or unused railroad yards. The Crab Island Fish Factory is an exception. It sits on its own island in New Jersey’s Great Bay, the only stain on a landscape that seems remote and almost untouched by humans. The factory was built in the 1800’s to turn an inedible type of fish called a bunker, or a menhaden, into an assortment of products, such as fish oil, fertilizer, and pet food. Locally, the factory was known as “the stink house”, due to the awful smell it would emit when it was in operation. The factory brought fishing in the area to an industrial scale. Bunker/menhaden travel in huge schools, which would be spotted from above by airplanes. The planes would then direct boats to surround the school with nets, catching thousands of fish with very little time and effort. Eventually, the factory’s efficiency led to its own downfall, as it dragged the once enormous bunker/menhaden population lower and lower, until there simply weren’t enough fish left to catch and still make a profit. It also had to ship product to the railroads, which were all a great distance from its remote island. After failing in its original purpose, and overusing the resource that it had thrived on, the factory still clung on to life by composting garbage from nearby Atlantic City. In the 1970’s, the factory’s atrocities towards nature ended when it became a part of the Green Acres program. Today, the factory has been reclaimed by nature, it’s warehouses are home to seabirds and its piers (ironically) shelter huge schools of small fish.

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The Crab Island Fish Factory from the kayak launch

Exploring the factory would have been fun enough, but i decided to go one step further and spend the night there. After loading very basic supplies into the kayak, I made the 1 mile journey through the marsh and across the channel to the factory’s island. Upon reaching the island, my little group dragged its kayaks into the most liveable warehouse and set up a small campsite of sleeping bags, backpacks, and lanterns. The sun was setting, but we set out to explore the island before dark.

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This is the warehouse we chose to call home for a night

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Huge machine pieces, my guess is they were for grinding up fish.

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A doorway into another warehouse

The island has many buildings and structures, all in various states of disrepair. Some buildings were just piles of twisted metal frames and pipes, which had succumb to the winds and storms off the ocean. Even the warehouse i was staying in was only half intact, with half of the roof caved in and collapsed.

DSC_0126 Sunset shining on the factory smokestacks

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The skeletal frame of a roof over the factory
The Atlantic City skyline was visible from right in front of the warehouse i was staying in, giving a small taste of humanity to a remote and forgotten place.

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This building was far away from the main factory. I’m not sure what purpose it served.

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A large water tower in the sunset.

Sleeping in the factory was creepy to say the least. Dripping water falling on sheet metal sounded like footsteps. Rusty metal creaked and moaned. At around 4am there was an ear shattering mechanical roar, far louder than any of the planes or boats that passed by. I don’t know and don’t want to know where it came from.

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This was my view as the night fell.

When the sun came up and made the place a whole lot less creepy, i finally got some sleep. After waking up and taking a few more photos, it was back into the kayaks to sail for home.

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My warehouse in the morning.

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Collapse and decay.

The Crab Island Fish Factory is a tough place to get to (you need a boat), but if you have the chance to go, i suggest you do it soon, as this place wont be around much longer. Also, pack bug spray. You’ll need it.

Thanks for the read!

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