Cities along the Monterey Bay are full of seafood restaurants. But what ends up on your plate can often come from another part of the country, even another part of the world. The Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust wants to change that by breathing new life into Monterey’s commercial fishing industry.
Scott Fosmark opens the metal gate to the Monterey Municipal Marina. He’s wearing a black baseball cap with a logo for his family business, Fosmark Fisheries, LLC.
It’s a sunny winter day on the waterfront. We walk down a ramp that leads us to the rows of white sailboats, each tightly tied to the dock with rope. It’s a beautiful scene, but Fosmark seems almost homesick.
“This whole harbor used to be completely filled with commercial fishing boats. I can remember coming down here with my grandfather and having him unload his salmon right here,” says Fosmark.
Fosmark is a fifth generation commercial fisherman from Monterey. He grew up on his parents’ boat, pulling in albacore at just six-years-old. But now, his boats are up in Oregon.
“I’m sure a lot of people are probably scratching their heads, why are there no fishing boats here? Well, you know, the fish stocks were challenged,” Fosmark says.
Twenty years ago, the federal government declared many of the popular species caught off Monterey, like rockfish, overfished. This limited the number that could be caught. To help the fish recover, what’s called the “catch share” program was created. It requires fishermen to own fishing rights, which are expensive and hard to get. Many local fishermen got priced out by bigger companies with deeper pockets.
Fosmark says, “They left Monterey, they went up to the Pacific Northwest.”
Then, in 2014, the non-profit Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust formed to support smaller, local fishing operations. It currently has rights to fish about six and a half million pounds of groundfish, which it leases to local fishermen at a discounted price. Sherry Flumerfelt is the Executive Director of the Fisheries Trust.
“Having access to fishing rights is one piece of a much larger puzzle,” says Flumerfelt.
She says another piece of the puzzle is the buyer. Because when the boats left, local restaurants, stores and cafeterias had to form other relationships with other suppliers.
So the Fisheries Trust is working to restore the local fish supply chain. It plans to develop a fish hub with support from its partners, the City of Monterey and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The fish hub could one day mean a central location to connect sellers and buyers. For now, it’s starting out with the fish hub's newly-hired Supply Chain Manager making phone calls.
“Working with the fishermen, working with the restaurants or the chefs, working with the larger buyers that might supply to hospitals or prisons and trying to reconnect those, those players with each other,” says Flumerfelt.
Players like Passionfish Restaurant in Pacific Grove, which supports KAZU. In the kitchen, Chef Ted Walter grabs a big stainless steel bowl and cracks eggs into it. “This is going to be a mushroom risotto custard. So we use this with our scallops, we get Maine scallops.”
Walter says they used to get a lot more local fish. “So much of it has to travel now. I’m not gettin’ it, getting it from close by for a lot of what we’re serving. It’s unfortunate.
That’s why Walter supports this idea of a fish hub.
“From a viewpoint of a restaurant, if you have a great local fresh product and you said, ‘hey we just brought this up today’, I think you can get a lot of people that are going to be excited by that,” Walter says.
But he’s concerned about how consistent the supply would be. He also says there would need to be a competitive price in order for him to cut ties with the suppliers he’s already working with.
Fisherman Scott Fosmark has his own concerns. He says Monterey’s marina and harbor would need more infrastructure to support more commercial fishing, like a large scale processing facility.
“There’s no ice house here, Cannery Row is not there anymore. So it becomes a little bit more challenging because all of the other things that we need, you know, everything would have to be brought in,” says Fosmark.
The Fisheries Trust and Monterey's Harbor hope to do that with the fish hub.
Harbormaster John Hayes writes, "The City of Monterey is committed to supporting the growth of the commercial fishing industry in the Monterey Bay. We work to achieve this commitment by constructing and maintaining appropriate infrastructure, [and] being involved in State and Federal fisheries policy issues."
Fosmark says if all the pieces of the puzzle come together, then he would bring his boats back down here.
“I don’t have a have a crystal ball; I don’t know where the future is going, but maybe we’ll get back to that and have more, more of a fishing presence here. I’m optimistic. I would love to be able to bring the boat back here, for sure,” Fosmark says.
If this idea is successful in Monterey, the Fisheries Trust will move on to developing the program in Moss Landing and Santa Cruz.