Erik Lund will do the dirty work of fishing for folks up and down the Jersey Shore. Inspired by his own experience as a lifelong fisherman, Lund, 33, of Cape May, started On the Fly Mobile Fish Cleaning in 2012, with the help of his wife, Rebeka, and two daughters - Mia, 12, and Isabella, 8. He cleans, guts, and fillets fish for customers at the South Jersey Marina in Cape May, where he usually parks his truck. But he can also go to wherever his fishing clientele desires. Last week, Lund discussed his unique business while cutting up a thrasher for a hungry customer.
Tell me how you thought of this idea for a mobile fish-cleaning business.
Well, we started a fish-cleaning service back in 1996.
First, we had a store. We did fish cleaning out of the South Jersey Marina, and you had to come to us. It wasn't mobile. We just had one marina and a fish-cleaning station, basically.
I made [the business] mobile so I could go to any marina anytime. And then I built my truck, all self-contained, with water, a generator . . . so I could go anywhere.
Did business take off right away after you opened the store?
No, it was slow. It was slow for the first year or so. People, you know, were kind of hesitant about it. Everyone tries to cut fish on their own. They think they can handle it, think they can do it. When they see what we do, we clean [the fish] properly and we package the fish nicely.
And the people on the boats can go clean the boats and not have to wait two hours to clean their fish. It saves them time, with all the other stuff they have to do.
And we dispose of the fish carcass so they're not thrown back in the water. We have a big issue with people throwing the carcasses back in the water. They start rotting and smelling up the marinas. We try to help out the environment and use everything we can. There are some parts of the fish that are a waste that other people use for bait or chum or other thing. It's better not to waste anything.
If I were to catch a fish today, how would the process work? Would I call you and arrange for you to come to me?
Yeah, most people, they want their fish same day. Right now, I'm working on a 60-pound thrasher. They caught it today, and, on their way in, they gave me a call, about an hour before they got in, as soon as they got cell service. I came down and met them at the dock and brought the fish over to the truck and took care of everything from there. I clean it and wait for it to be put in bags.
What's your normal turnaround time when someone calls?
Normally, if I'm already out running around at a marina, it's usually within a half-hour I can get to other places, usually I ask for a half-hour leeway just so I know that I have time to get there. If I'm out in the South Jersey Marina, where I'm usually parked, people usually just bring the fish right to me there, so I don't have to move. It depends. If they want me to come to them, it takes a little longer. If they come to me, it usually doesn't take too long.
Are you a fisherman yourself?
Yes, I'm a lifelong fisherman. I worked on a little party boat down in Cape May. I got salt water in my blood, being from Cape May here, so it's always been something I've been around.
Do you see a big uptick in business in the summer, or is it pretty consistent throughout the year?
With drum fish season in the spring, it gets a little busier, because drum fish are harder for people to clean. They only usually try it once and then call me. It's a tough fish. And then in the summertime, there's tuna fish and sharks and stuff like that. I usually clean shark and the bigger fish, not the smaller fish. A lot of people know how to clean the smaller fish on their own.
What's the craziest thing you've seen cleaning fish these last few years?
I was around - I didn't clean it - for the 800-pound mako [shark] that came in. I was parked right there. I was cleaning fish and it came in. I've had a drum fish that was 100 pounds. This year, I haven't had anything too majorly big, nothing out of the ordinary, just the 100-pound drum. Usually, we come across the big tuna - around 200 to 300 pounds. That usually comes around middle to end of the summer.
Is your business a one-man show?
It's a family thing. My wife helps me. I have daughters and they help bag. I also have a friend of the family that helps.