SAN DIEGO — Every Saturday morning at Tuna Harbor in San Diego, local fishermen tie up their boats at the pier and sell their catches of the week at the new open-air dockside market. People crowd in to buy everything from albacore to razor crabs and wavy turban top snails. By the time the market closes at 1 p.m., most of the fishermen have sold their hauls.
Opened to the public since Aug. 2, the new venue has sparked a renewed interest in San Diego’s fishing industry and everything it offers.
“The opening of the new seafood market on Fish Harbor Pier is a milestone that our fishing community, the Port of San Diego and the County of San Diego have worked very hard to achieve,” said Jennifer Windle, director of marketing and communications for the Port of San Diego.
Peter Halmay, a San Diego-based commercial fisherman for more than 40 years, agreed with Windle, adding that Tuna Harbor Dockside Market builds community awareness of San Diego’s thriving commercial fishery.
“It builds social capital in the fishing fleet and gets the community to talk directly to fishermen and share the connection to the ocean,” he said.
Halmay, who is on the Board of Tuna Harbor Dockside Market, the entity operating the market, has been a key figure in consolidating the collective of fishermen.
“I have seen that what has held fishermen back is their strong independent nature,” he said.
For the last several years, Halmay has helped to develop the social capital needed for the fishermen to work together. He has worked on formulating the vision of fishermen participating in a public market. The expanded interest by the public in what the fishermen bring in to sell welcomes many of the species farther down the food chain. Formerly, the processors were not paying enough to make fishing for these species worthwhile.
Now the fishermen are starting to work together to bring in a steady supply of a variety of fish.
“When the public sees the health benefits and value of these species: mackerel, sardines, perch, octopus, whelks, top snails, sand dabs, they try them out and we find they come back to try other fish the following week,” Halmay said.
“Conservation benefits and economic benefits then go hand in hand,” he added.
San Diego fisherman Dan Major says the new market has made his fishing ventures much more interesting. “It used to be a grind to have to catch tonnage to satisfy the wholesalers, enduring all sorts of weather for days on end,” said Major, who spends as many as five days a week out on the Pacific on his boat, Plan B.
“Now we can bring in 200 pounds of this or that, a whole variety,” he added. “The market has brought the fun back to fishing.”
At the Dockside Market on a recent Saturday, people bought up razor crabs and boxer crabs from San Diego fisherman Tory Becker. Everyone grinned and pointed at the crabs crawling over each other on the ice.
“This is our last boxer crab today,” Becker said, holding up the large crustacean to show a customer.
“Today was very busy. We sold the bulk of our products in the first 45 minutes we opened,” he said.
Customers Rich and Tiffany Adkins bought a bag of razor crabs on their first visit to the market.
“We love seafood and couldn’t wait to come down here,” Adkins said.
“I am from Taiwan, and this market reminds me of just the way it was in the harbor when I grew up back there,” said Tiffany Adkins.
The Adkins’ response to the market echoes the fishermen’s pride in San Diego’s tradition and heritage of the industry.
”Now the two small commercial fishing marinas [the one at Tuna Harbor, the other at Driscoll’s Wharf] can be part of the port’s vision,” said Halmay.
All the fishermen are hopeful for future developments of the Tuna Harbor market, including an improvement of the public dock. Currently, there are still problems with large wakes and access to the pier on only two ladders.
For more information about Tuna Harbor Dockside Market, visit, thdocksidemarket.com.