Commercial Boats Could Sell Directly To Public At Fisherman's Wharf

At last week's San Francisco Port Commission meeting, officials proposed bringing back a policy that would allow the public to buy fish directly from commercial boats at Fisherman’s Wharf. 

If enacted, the proposed retail policy would be limited to allow only the sale of salmon, tuna, rock fish, halibut, and bycatch, excluding all species of crab.

The change would only apply to Fisherman's Wharf permanent berth-holders who sell whole fish, pay a $225 fee, and comply with all state and local laws. Sports boats berthed at Jefferson Street and the Hyde Street harbor would be excluded. 

Photo: Jeremy Keith/Flickr

A similar practice is permitted at many other California harbors, including Half Moon Bay and Bodega Bay. San Francisco's policy would mirror guidelines at other harbors and would mandate retail sales exclusively, banning wholesaling or direct sales to restaurants. 

An identical program was implemented in July 1999, but the policy expired due to a lack of marketing to the public and participation by fishers with permanent tenancy, according to Michael Nerney, the Port's maritime marketing manager.

But in January, fishers hoping to earn additional income approached the commission and requested the policy renewal. 

In preliminary talks at a June 2nd Port Commission meeting, more than 50 commercial fishing boat operators, port tenants and fish distributors discussed reinstating the fisher-direct-to-consumer program with mostly positive feedback. 

The consensus among many fishers was that allowing retail sales directly from their berths would be beneficial for business. Citing the high cost of regulation of vessel safety, fish handling, and fishing quotas, retail sales will supplement income and help maintain economic vitality, according to Nerney. 

Fisherman's Wharf. | photo: Stephen Colebourne/Flickr

Processors who have leased and invested in port facilities have expressed fear that the policy will allow fishers to turn to selling their catch wholesale and to restaurants, creating an unfair playing field. Concerns have also been raised about how to protect the safety and health of the public. 

Nerney noted that both Half Moon Bay and Bodega Bay have managed a similar program in conjunction with Fish and Wildlife and reported no major incidents of violations, and see the program as a benefit to the marina and consumers. 

"I’m not against anybody in business...but I was forced to get a facility on the pier. I’m also required to have 10 licenses," said Dan Strazzullo with All Shores Seafood during public comment. "If they want to sell, I have no problem. Put them on the same scale as the rest of us. It’s not a big deal, but let's do it all right. That’s all we’re asking."

"Nobody has an overhead as high as a fishing boat…more than any processing plant," said owner of fishing vessel Pioneer, Giuseppe Pennisi. "Plus, I have to risk my life. None of these people have to do that who have a resale business."

"I understand that there is opposition to this," Pennisi added. "But when you can have flexibility, you can do a lot with a fishing boat." 

Fisherman's Wharf. | photo: Jeffrey Keeton/Flickr

Former port commissioner Brian McWilliams, also a port tenant and owner of a commercial vessel, noted that fish sold in this manner might be minimal, "but it’s a great service to the port and gets people excited and involved in port activities." 

Christian Morabito with Hook Fish Co., a Sunset-based restaurant and fish market, told Hoodline he "100% sees this as a positive. It's about shortening the supply chain, about transparency and trust," he said.

"It makes people become more aware of where their food is coming from and it becomes an educational experience."

At the next commission meeting on August 8th, the port plans to discuss an updated version of the proposed policy. 

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