Santa Cruz: Small Crafts with Big Impact

Sept. 26, 2018

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Port Profile table_Santa Cruz updated.jpg

Santa Cruz has the reputation as a laid-back surf town where all is good - and all really is. Underlying this casual waterfront vibe is the commercial fishing fleet that has helped shape the culture and economy of the area for almost two centuries. Santa Cruz is the most northerly and largest of the three Monterey Bay ports, but it has the smallest fishing fleet. Local fishermen primarily land high-value, low-volume seafood like Dungeness crab, King salmon, White sea bass, and California halibut mostly using traps, pots, and hook & line. “The Santa Cruz harbor is shallow, so it can’t take the big wetfish boats that offload squid and other big volume fisheries like they do in Monterey and Moss Landing,” said Latisha Marshall, harbormaster. “Due to geography, that’s not going to change.”  

As Carrie Pomeroy, California Sea Grant Extension Specialist, explained, “Santa Cruz harbor is actually designated as a ‘small craft harbor,’ so its fishing operations are relatively small, and people may participate in a variety of fisheries, if they can access them.” The particular mix of fisheries differs from what you find in other places, in part from the size of the harbor, but also because of its history and social and cultural make up. The rich history of the Santa Cruz harbor is outlined in Pomeroy’s report, Santa Cruz Harbor Commercial Fishing Community Profilewhich she co-authored with Melissa Mahoney, Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust Board member.

 Santa Cruz fisherman, David Toriumi, King salmon fishing in May. (Photo credit: David Hills - Fishy Photos)

Santa Cruz fisherman, David Toriumi, King salmon fishing in May. (Photo credit: David Hills - Fishy Photos)

Today, there are around 40 locally based commercial fishing vessels in Santa Cruz, but it’s difficult to get an exact count on fishermen, since most are part-time, and most move between different West Coast fishing ports. Almost all of these fishermen would prefer to be fishing full-time, but the industry has faced difficult times, and it’s challenging to make a living off of fishing alone. Hans Haveman, commercial fisherman and owner of H & H Fresh Fish Co. explains that factors like Domoic acid tainting Dungeness crabs and short salmon seasons have taken a toll on the local fishing community. Government restrictions aimed at protecting rockfish stocks have also severely limited where fishermen can fish and how much volume they can catch and bring to market.  

“We closed escrow on our new house, and then found out I couldn’t crab that year. We have small children. It was challenging,” said Khevin Mellegers, a local commercial fisherman. “But we’ve been pulling things together and getting back on track. Salmon is starting to look a bit better, and hopefully crab, so we are starting to breathe a little easier.”

It also helps that consumers are increasingly recognizing the high quality and value of Santa Cruz seafood. As Hans of H&H noted, an increased awareness for local and sustainable seafood has really helped these small-boat, boutique fisheries. Along with operating at farmers’ markets and selling local fish retail and wholesale from his shop, he offers a subscription service, or community supported fishery (CSF), where members pick up their fresh catch each week in Santa Cruz. David Graham, executive chef at Geisha Japanese Restaurant and Tea House in Capitola echoes Hans’ saying, “many of our customers really care about eating local fish that’s caught with responsible methods.”

The Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust, through our Fish Hub program, is working with Santa Cruz fishermen and buyers to help ensure that their catch reaches local markets, and to raise awareness among consumers about what is local, who caught it, what’s in season, and what is sustainable. “The local food movement has really taken off, and yet almost all the seafood we eat is imported from overseas, often having traveled thousands of miles before it reaches our plates” said Roger Burleigh, MBFT Marketing & Supply Chain Manager. “It’s worth a few extra dollars to buy local seafood that we know for certain is fresh, sustainably and ethically caught, and supports the local economy.”

 H & H Fresh Fish Co.’s new retail storefront in the Harbor.

H & H Fresh Fish Co.’s new retail storefront in the Harbor.

SUPPORT OUR FISHING COMMUNITY - Eat locaL CATCH!

  • Interested in helping? Ask your Santa Cruz fish market or restaurant for what's local and sustainable. By virtue of you asking (again and again) you are letting these businesses know that you care about their buying decisions (check out Seafood Watch for environmental recommendations - almost all species caught in Monterey Bay are ‘Best Choice’ or ‘ Good Alternative’).

  • Sign up for a Community Supported Fishery (CSF) like H&HOcean2Table, or Real Good Fish. Bon Appetit recently wrote that the best way to buy sustainable seafood is through a CSF.

  • Participate in our upcoming Get Hooked: Santa Cruz! event on January 14-20, 2019. We are partnering with fishermen and local organizations like Real Good Fish, Ocean2Table, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium to promote restaurants that will be featuring local fish species on their menus as part of California Restaurant Month.  More info coming soon!

  • Finally, you can help us achieve our vision of thriving and sustainable fisheries and fishing communities by making a tax-deductible donation to the Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust. 

Roger Burleigh