San Francisco fishermen are hoping to catch a break by reviving an old policy that allows them to sell fish directly from their boats.
Dozens of fishermen, processing tenants, wholesalers and owners from local businesses packed the Port Commission meeting on Tuesday in what Commission President Willie Adams described as unprecedented numbers to discuss the proposed policy, which was resurrected by fishermen who approached the Port of San Francisco in January.
The proposal would allow fishermen to sell fish to the public, fresh from their boats, at the dock in Fisherman’s Wharf Harbor for the first time in nearly two decades. But some fish processors and wholesalers have concerns of an uneven playing field.
“Just like some people want to go to the Ferry Building to buy produce fresh, this is the same idea where people can ask fishermen about the product and purchase the fish directly from the source,” Michael Nerney, maritime marketing manager at the Port, told the San Francisco Examiner.
Boat operators said the policy would help them make ends meet by supplementing their income with retail sales, as they are faced with heavy regulations in vessel safety navigation, fishing quotas and fish handling.
“Nobody has the overhead as high as the fishing boats, plus I gotta go out and risk my life,” Giuseppe Pennisi, owner of the fishing vessel Pioneer, told the Port Commission. “I understand there’s a lot of opposition to this, but if you guys want to keep the fishing industry alive, there’s only one way of doing it.”
Currently, commercial fishers must go through a fish processor that follows federal, state and local laws to ensure environmental, health, safety and insurance regulations are met. Processors and wholesalers expressed concern that fishermen may be able to bypass the established process to sell wholesale, as this may create an unbalanced business climate where fishermen are exempt from the overhead costs wholesalers have to pay.
“If they want to sell, I have no problem with it, but put them on the same playing field as the rest of us,” said Dan Strazzullo, owner of the seafood wholesaler All Shores Seafood. “It costs me a lot of money to run my business.”
Some local seafood restaurants and wholesalers, however, see the competition as a way to enliven the local fishing industry and the Fisherman’s Wharf experience.
Tom Creedon, president of Scoma’s, supports expanding the industry by allowing fishermen to sell retail fish, even if the sales would be at his restaurant’s doorstep.
“This is Fishermen’s Wharf, it should be a place where people can see the fishing industry,” Creedon said.
“Right now they can’t see the fishing industry at all, so I think it’s a good opportunity for San Francisco.”
The proposal is based on a policy that was implemented in 1999, but was never renewed after its expiration in 2000, largely due to lack of participation and awareness from the public.
Like the old policy, the current proposal includes restrictions on the type of fish that must be sold. Salmon, tuna, rockfish, halibut and bycatch are the only fish that would be permitted for retail sale, excluding crab sales altogether.
Sales would be limited to Fisherman’s Wharf Harbor, excluding Jefferson Street and Hyde Street Harbor.
The fishermen would have to obtain a retail fish sales permit to sell straight to the public, issued by the Port. To obtain the permit, they must be a permanent berth-holder at the Fisherman’s Wharf, obtain any required liability insurance, be in good standing, provide documentation and pay a fee of $225.
The practice and permits fees would mirror other California harbors, including Half Moon Bay and Bodega Bay.
According to the Nerney, the policies in both bays have existed for years without incident and have benefited fishermen, marinas and consumers.
“It could increase the awareness of the public to 200 some odd fishing boats, and show them the fact that they’re not just on a postcard,” Nerney said. “For [consumers] to see the process of them going out and fishing, it might help fishermen sustain business in an industry where they don’t have many guarantees.”
Though the Port commissioners expressed interest during an informational presentation of the proposal at Tuesday’s meeting, they also raised concerns including safety regulations, quality control and permit enforcement.
“I think a lot more has to be done,” Adams said. “But I really appreciate all the hard work fishermen do. I would love for this to be a pilot project and to work to make it successful.”
The Port Commission plans to discuss a revised version of the proposal during their next meeting on Aug. 8.