In the twilight hours of the early morning, the floor of the New Fulton Fish Market is much like the New York Stock Exchange—buyers and sellers coyly circle around each other like sharks and barter deals over a difference of pennies. Yet on Wall Street, where offices typically have desks, the Fulton Market has forklifts. Stocks and bonds are salmon and bass. Suits are replaced with down jackets and combat boots, and pens become fishhooks. Culturally, these two institutions seem worlds apart, but they both exist for a single, very important purpose: playing the game to turn a profit.
“Not only are the fish spectacular, but the supply and demand factor of the day, which is the money end of the day, is exciting because then you’re playing it like a stock,” says veteran fishmonger Eddie Cruci of Mt. Sinai Fish, Inc.
“But it’s not a stock,” he adds, “it’s a product that you can see, you can feel, you can touch. And the volume and the men and the camaraderie – there’s so many levels to why I enjoy this fish market.”
The Fulton Fish Market, which was a fixture on the southern tip of Manhattan for 180 years, was uprooted from its South Street address and moved to the predominantly industrial and isolated Hunts Point neighborhood in the Bronx in 2005. Mayor Bloomberg invested $86 million to build a 430,000-square-foot facility for 37 wholesale seafood dealers and anticipated this would create “roughly 600 jobs” for Hunts Point locals. Now eight years later, relocating a hub of economic activity has been more of a bust than a boom for the Bronx community.
“As far as companies go, they’re hiring, but it depends on if someone wants to take that position. Like [being] a fish cleaner, most people don’t want those jobs. The lower you go, the bigger the turtle herd,” says Hunts Point Chamber Business Liaison, Robert Spinko, who hasn’t seen the needle budge in terms of local job development.
Contrary to Bloomberg’s predictions, the Fulton Fish Market has done little to improve job growth. Unemployment in Hunts Point has only dipped slightly since the Fulton Market opened, from 23.6 percent in 2000 to 20 percent in 2011, and 40 percent of residents live at or below the poverty line.
The move also had intended benefits for wholesalers. The original Fulton Market, situated on cobble-stoned streets, was unaccommodating to large truck shipments and because it was outdoors it couldn’t provide a regulated cold temperature to keep the fish fresh, as the New Market, now enclosed, does today. Its Manhattan real estate hit an unreasonable rate and the access to major highways in Hunts Point was promising for increasing imports and exports.
But for some, taking the Fulton Fish Market out of Manhattan has thrown the balance of supply and demand askew.
Eddie Monani, a third generation manager of his family-owned business, Joe Monani Fish Co., Inc., has seen a significant drop in his clientele traffic. “Since we came here from South Street, business has fallen off. In Manhattan we were in the nucleus of the five boroughs, which was very important. It’s much harder to get up here than it was in Manhattan. [Buyers] used to come 5 days a week, now they’re coming down once or twice a week.”
When asked how he’s making up for the losses: “we have to do what we have to do to survive.”