Businesswoman & Fishermom
While a proneness to seasickness kept Elaine Pennisi, 75, off the water, she has been involved with almost every other aspect of commercial fishing in Monterey. Pennisi has also experienced a tragedy every fishingmom fears the most—losing a son at sea.
Born in Michigan, it was a military deployment to former Fort Ord that brought her family to the Monterey Peninsula.
“My dad came out here for the Army during World War II and thought it was so great he sent for the whole family—we never left,” Pennisi says.
She met a fisherman, Giuseppe Pennisi, who emigrated to the United States in the mid-1940s following his father, who split time between Monterey and Sicily since 1906. Elaine Pennisi was married at 19-years-old and together they raised 8 children, all of whom grew up working on the family’s boats and in the family’s businesses.
The Pennisi’s owned three fishing boats that largely harvested groundfish, including sole, rockfish, halibut and sablefish. They also owned Royal Seafood fish market located on Monterey’s Municipal Wharf II, a freezer plant and a machine shop—all supporting the local fishing economy.
When Pennisi’s children were old enough to leave the house and fend for themselves, her husband Giuseppe looked to bring her on the water.
“It was always his dream for me to fish with him, but it turned out that I got deathly seasick,” Pennisi reminisces with a smile. So she stuck with her work managing the family business running sales, marketing, and collections for Royal Seafood accounts all over the state of California.
She also came to know all-too-well that seasickness is the least of one’s worries while making a living on the ocean. Commercial fishing is one of the most dangerous professions in the country with multiple lives lost every year on the Pacific Coast.
The trawler her stepson David “Rowdy” Pennisi owned and operated, the Relentless, disappeared as it motored through a busy shipping channel 25 miles outside of San Francisco in 2004. He was 41-years-old and the father of two sons and a step-daughter. Elaine Pennisi believes her stepson’s boat was struck by a Korean chemical tanker, the Bum Chin, in a hit-and-run incident. The U.S. Coast Guard never came to any conclusions as to what sank the Relentless.
The disaster devastated the family that made its living on unpredictable and unforgiving waters for generations. Her sons John and Giuseppe “Joe” Pennisi, who themselves were on a boat that sunk on the Bering Sea in Alaska, have stuck with the family trade, and her son Gino Pennisi still manages the family businesses on Monterey’s commercial fishing wharf.
While Elaine Pennisi still has more good than bad memories about the fishing life, one thing’s for certain:
“Fishermen aren’t appreciated enough,” she says. “It’s an extremely dangerous profession and the average (person) doesn’t know what fishermen have to endure to bring that fish to their table.”