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Port allows fish sales from boats at Fisherman’s Wharf

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A ship worker pretends to kiss a fresh fish while unloading them from the boat onto the dock of Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, Calif. Tuesday, July 11, 2017. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Fishermen have been granted the legal right to sell fish from their boats at Fisherman’s Wharf for the first time in nearly two decades.

The pilot program, approved by the Port Commission on Tuesday afternoon, will last for one year, at which time the Port will consider making it permanent. The effort is meant to help fishermen survive in the rocky fishing industry.

“We’re struggling just to keep our boat here,” said Giuseppe “Joe” Pennisi, who captains the fishing boat “Pioneer” out of San Francisco.

Pennisi and others who make their living fishing asked to sell fish from their boats so they could keep their businesses afloat. They said fish sales from their boats would not replace retail sales, but would potentially supplement the incomes of 43 licensed fishing boats at the wharf.

The Port heard an informational item on permanently allowing fishermen to sell fish straight from their boats at its July 11 meeting, but ultimately settled on a pilot program due to a number of concerns, including protecting the health and safety of the public and instituting similar regulations as retailers who sell fish must adhere to.

The Port will not provide direct oversight of fish sales at boats, thought it will dispense permits, which cost $225. Regulators overseeing various aspects of the fish sales include the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Michael Nerney, the Port’s maritime marketing manager, said prices won’t be regulated and it will be up to “fishers and buyers” to set fair market values. Fish can also be ordered online.

The permit fee is based on what other counties charge for similar permits, though it may be raised if it’s found to be inadequate to cover the cost of administering the program.

The Port may even subsidize the permit program for the “ongoing benefit of the fishing industry” if it’s found to be needed at the end of the pilot in October 2018, Nerney said.

Dan Strazzullo, owner of All Shores Seafood at Fisherman’s Wharf, was concerned about a level playing field between shops and direct sales.

“We have no problem with anyone selling anything, as long as they follow the rules,” he told Port commissioners Tuesday. He noted his shop has fish from all over the world for sale.

Pennisi, by contrast, lauded the new program as a way to re-introduce locals to locally caught fish. His grandfather was also a fisherman in San Francisco in the early 1900s, he said, a tradition passed on through his family.

San Francisco used to play host to one of the largest fleets of fishing vessels on the West Coast, he said, and this program may help its last remnants of that tradition survive.

“This is part of San Francisco’s history,” he said. “I’d hate for it to be gone.”

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