Working for Good, Clean, Fair Food for All - Slow Food Urban San Diego Convivium of Slow Food International


How the New Pacific to Plate Bill is Bringing Good, Clean and Fair Fish to San Diegans

Pacific to Plate Bill San Diego

By Kathryn Rogers and Sarah Shoffler, Slow Food Urban San Diego Board Members

Slow Food Urban San Diego (SFUSD) joined the San Diego Food System Alliance (SDFSA), local fishermen, scientists, government leaders and community partners this week in celebration of local fisheries.

On December 7, 2015, more than 100 fish-loving friends gathered together at the waterfront Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego for inspiring speeches, a lively panel discussion and delicious local seafood served in honor of the recent passage of the “Pacific to Plate” bill AB226. The new bill, sponsored by Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and signed into law in October by Governor Jerry Brown, allows fishermen’s markets to operate as food facilities, vendors to clean their fish for direct sale, and multiple fishermen to organize a market under a single permit. Put simply, the bill makes it easier for fishermen to sell directly to the public, much like farmers can.

Chef Graham Kent, of SoCal Fish, and his staff prep uni shooters for attendees to try

Chef Graham Kent, of SoCal Fish, and his staff prep uni shooters for attendees to try

The process to develop the bill sprung from the early success of Tuna Harbor Dockside Market (THDM), which opened to the public in August 2014 and averaged more than 350 customers and 1.1 tons of seafood sold each week in its first months of operation. Recognizing the potential of a longer-term, direct-to-consumer market (the original operated under a temporary permit), County Supervisor Greg Cox, the County’s Department of Environmental Health, Port Commissioner Bob Nelson, the Unified Port of San Diego, California Sea Grant, NOAA, California Restaurant Association, The Maritime Alliance, California Coastal Conservancy, the local media, fishermen, researchers and supporters collaborated to draft a bill that met the desires of local fishermen and consumers. It received unanimous support in the California Assembly and Senate.

How does the new bill align with Slow Food’s mission of Good, Clean and Fair Food for All?

Good: The bill makes it easier for local fishermen to sell directly to consumers, and eliminates added transit time and processing/freezing compared to seafood imported from other countries or regions. The fish sold at THDM is caught by San Diego fishermen in local waters, most of it coming out of our oceans no more than a couple of days before it ends up in consumers’ kitchens. If you’ve ever tasted fresh caught sea urchin (a San Diego local favorite), you can tell the difference – big time. If you haven’t, get yourself down to THDM for an uni scramble or shooter. Your taste buds may never be the same.

Clean: Local sourcing means a smaller carbon footprint – no added fuel costs for fish flown or trucked to our markets from other states and countries. And US fisheries are among the most stringently regulated the world, meaning that if there’s a problem – either we’re fishing them too fast, there are too few or we’re catching protected species, we are mandated to do something about it. Our fishermen are required to stop fishing, slow fishing, or change fishing practices in some way to ensure we’re fishing sustainably.

Fair: One of the greatest benefits of a true fishermen’s market is that it promotes collaboration among local fishermen. Take it from fisherman Pete Halmay, a member of the Fishermen’s Market Working Group and longtime sea urchin diver:

“One of the best things I’ve seen with this direct market is that every Saturday 10 to 12 fishermen sit down together, work together, to maximize the benefits to the population. They are bringing in a wider variety of fish so each fisherman can generate more sales and bring more diverse options to consumers.”

San Diego’s seafood is wide-ranging indeed. We don’t have just tuna and shrimp (two of the most commonly eaten seafood products in the US) in our waters. Our harbors and oceans are full of rockfish (dozens of species!), crab, lobster and snails, among other smaller fish like sardines, sand dabs, and mackerel.

Manchester Grand Hyatt Executive Chef Sutti Sripolpa and Scripps Mercy Chef Cindy Quinonez admire the wide variety of rockfish available at Tuna Harbor Dockside Market

Manchester Grand Hyatt Executive Chef Sutti Sripolpa and Scripps Mercy Chef Cindy Quinonez admire the wide variety of rockfish available at Tuna Harbor Dockside Market

For All: The direct-to-consumer market allows fishermen to run specials when they catch a big run of fish, passing the abundance onto consumers in the form of lower prices.

The passage of the Pacific to Plate bill is a major milestone in bringing good, clean and fair seafood to all San Diegans. So what’s next?

During Monday’s event, Dr. Theresa Sinicrope Talley, Coastal Specialist for the California Sea Grant Extension at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego moderated an expert panel that raised some important questions about where we can go from here to create an even more sustainable seafood system. Barriers to getting seafood from dock to dish still remain, including:

  1. Lack of infrastructure for San Diego fishermen to offload their catch at local docks.
  2. Logistical constraints including limited market hours (currently Tuna Harbor Dockside Market is only open Saturdays from 8 a.m. until around 1 p.m.) that make it hard from some consumers and chefs to get there.
  3. Limited awareness among locals and visitors that the market exists, where else they can buy local seafood, and how they can prepare the less well known seafood produced locally.

Stay tuned for local efforts to address these issues. In the meantime, SFUSD is seeking local chefs and community partners interested in collaborating on these efforts. Contact us to learn more.

And, be sure to pay a visit to THDM to see these fish tales come to life. While you’re there, make sure to ask your local fishermen for their favorite seafood preparations!

Tuna Harbor Dockside Market

A Depression-Era Reflection of the San Diego Fishing Industry

In observation of the upcoming Sustainable Seafood Week, how about a little (art) history lesson? This is the story of a recently discovered mural depicting the San Diego fishing industry of the 1930s.

Close-up of "San Diego Industry"

Back in the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) was a New Deal agency developed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the US Congress to give employment to the many Americans who were unemployed as a result of the Great Depression. Known as one of the largest job-creation programs in the history of the US, the WPA commissioned millions of Americans–many unskilled laborers, but also musicians, writers, actors, directors, and artists–to carry out projects designed to help pull the country out of economic decline. Bridges, parks, and schools were built, and numerous literary, musical, and arts projects were developed.

As part of the WPA, the Federal Art Project (FAP) employed hundreds of artists who created in total more than 100,000 paintings and murals, as well as more than 18,000 sculptures. You may have heard of some of the artists that were employed by this project: Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Stuart Davis, and Jackson Pollock, to name just a few. And you may have seen some of the great murals that have resulted from these WPA efforts, as many have been preserved in post offices, courthouses, and schools across the nation. Typically, the murals tell us a great deal about society during the Great Depression, because Social Realism was the popular style at the time. Depicted are everyday scenes of the working class and the poor as critical commentaries about the institutions that perpetuate their plights.

Many FAP projects were commissioned right here in San Diego, and some excellent murals have been preserved throughout the county, such as the “Progress of Man” at the Balboa Park Club, “The Transportation of the Mail” at the downtown post office, and the “Scenic View of the Village” at the La Jolla Post Office.

Several murals were also commissioned for the San Diego State University (SDSU) campus for the iconic Hardy Tower. Surprisingly, these murals, assumed to be destroyed long ago when Hardy Tower was renovated in the 1950s, were only recently rediscovered during ceiling repairs. Seth Mallios, Chair of the Department of Anthropology at SDSU, has worked extensively on efforts to document, recover, restore, and preserve these important aspects of San Diego and SDSU history.

One mural at SDSU has been of particular interest. The 25-foot long “San Diego Industry” was completed in 1936 by SDSU student George Sorenson, and provides an excellent snapshot of the tuna fish industry in San Diego at the time. This restored mural, and others, are now displayed prominently in the SDSU Library Dome, and this video provides an excellent full view of the mural along with an informative discussion by Mallios.

Close-up of "San Diego Industry"

Each step of the industry is depicted in the mural, though not all of it has survived the years of neglect. On the left-hand side of the mural we see men fishing, weighing the fish, and then gutting them. In the middle we see women in assembly lines, and to the far right, Asian men are working in front of bins of cylindrical cans. Mallios assumes that Sorenson used as his model for the mural the Van Camp Seafood Company, which had the first commercial tuna canneries, one of which was located in San Diego.

Close-up of "San Diego Industry" featuring Asian men separated from other workers

One interesting aspect of “San Diego Industry” is that it features the diversity of people who worked in the tuna fish industry at the time: men and women, Asians, and African Americans; though, as Mallios observes, not everyone worked side-by-side. Sorenson’s placement of figures within the scene says a lot about American society in the 1930s.