Fresh off the boat: Pilot sales project officially starts at the Port of San Francisco

Published on
November 22, 2017

San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf has long been one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions, and now visitors have a chance to buy something other than a souvenir during their trip.

Pioneer Seafoods began selling fish straight off its boat late last month. It’s part of a year-long pilot project the Port of San Francisco approved in September. So far, Giuseppe Pennisi’s boat is the only one who has a permit, Michael Nerney, the port’s marketing director, told SeafoodSource.

It marks the first time the port has allowed sales from its berths since 2000. According to city officials, the pilot program fits in with the port’s five-year strategic plan of engaging visitors and attracting more business there.

Allowing commercial fishermen to sell off their boats is a practice that’s been in place at other California harbors, including Half Moon Bay and Bodega Bay.

“The fish harvested by local commercial fishers is a wild, public resource, and San Franciscans have a right to these fish,” said Elaine Forbes, the port’s executive director, in a memo to the Port Commission. “Allowing retail fish sales will give fishers the opportunity to adapt to new markets and remain financially viable, especially in light of the historically low salmon catch the past two years, and the domoic acid crab closure in 2016.”

Some, though, have reservations about the port’s project. Earlier this year, the West Coast Seafood Processors Association sent a letter to port officials expressing its concerns about worker and consumer safety issues from allowing sales on the docks. 

The association also has concerns about reporting accurate fish counts.

“Unfortunately, direct retail sale of live Pacific groundfish has resulted in considerable underreporting,” said Lori Steele, the association’s executive director, in the letter. “This places the conservation burden on the backs of those honest fishermen and processors who accurately report their landings. Furthermore, it ultimately affects everyone in the seafood industry and in coastal communities by requiring precautionary reductions in harvest.”

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Pennisi sold about 230 pounds of fish during his first weekend of sales. Pioneer will use Facebook to announce the dates and times when it will be berthed and selling.

Earlier this year, Pennisi launched a “floating fish market” in partnership with Scoma’s, a seafood restaurant, in an effort to sell more fish domestically.

“I just can’t believe that here I can’t get my own fish across the dock to a local place,” he said. “But you can get it across the dock and freeze it and ship it halfway around the world. It makes no sense.”

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