Edit ModuleShow Tags

Business

Local Seafood Poached: Why San Diegans are not eating the bounty from their own aquatic backyard


Published:

EACH DAY, chef Trey Foshee looks out his window at George’s at the Cove—one of the city’s best ocean views. From November to March, he can see fishermen hauling in San Diego’s famous spiny lobsters. He celebrated each season with a special tasting menu.

“People would call months in advance to reserve,” he says. “Now, for the second year, we can’t really afford to do it.”

It’s partially a simple case of supply and demand. Lobster lovers in other markets—from L.A. to China—have a bigger demand, and they’re willing to pay for it.

“Our home consumer is getting priced out,” explains Catalina Offshore Products fishmonger Tommy Gomes. “A couple years ago, lobsters were $7 per pound. Now it’s $17 to $19. I’ve never seen such high prices.”

Down at the docks, lobster fisherman Shad Caterius agrees. Most of his catch ends up in China, where lobsters are an important part of traditional wedding meals. “They prefer ours because they have no claws and look more like their own,” he says. “They also transport better than most warm-water species.”

America’s high sustainability standards also drive up prices. Fishing is limited to specified areas, during specified months. Quotas are tight. Spiny lobster can only be harvested using one trap on one fishing line. “In some parts of the world,” says Paddy Glennon, vice president of sales at Santa Monica Seafood, “you can find 100 traps on one line across three miles.”

The goal of such restrictions—long-term survival of a crucial food source—is both admirable and necessary. But it’s not without painful side effects. “I’m expecting to lose about a third of my income due to closures of the areas we fish,” says Caterius.

Lobster isn’t the first local delicacy to hop a red-eye out of San Diego. Urban Solace chef-owner Matt Gordon is a big fan of American Tuna, a collective of six pole-fishing families in San Diego, founded in 2005. Famed chefs like Thomas Keller and Tom Colicchio serve their tuna exclusively. But locals like Gordon can only get it frozen.

“San Diego used to be the tuna capital of the world, but the exodus of the tuna fleet occurred when it became dolphin safe,” says American Tuna’s Natalie Webster. “Now 84 percent of the fish the U.S. consumes is imported; we can’t compete with tuna processed in Thailand or third-world countries since we don’t pay people 25 cents a day.”

Ultimately, the consumer will decide whether keeping local food in town is worth the cost. It’s not an easy sell, especially to Americans, who only spend 9.8 percent of their income on food—the lowest, globally.  

“We are a culture that relishes cheap products, including seafood,” says Gomes. “To save money, Americans are eating third-world frozen fish with phosphates and glazed with chemicals.”

“Our home consumer is getting priced out,” explains Catalina Offshore Products fishmonger Tommy Gomes. “A couple years ago, lobsters were $7 per pound. Now it’s $17 to $19. I’ve never seen such high prices.”

Glennon suggests the solution lies in educating chefs and home cooks—on what to buy, and whom to buy it from. “Often, companies claim it’s local when it’s not,” he says. “Traceability can be vague. Chefs also have to accept imperfections, just like heirloom tomatoes—which are the most delicious, but not perfectly round or unblemished.”

“People need to support sustainable wild tuna fisheries and locally sourced products with traceability back to the vessel that caught it,” says Webster. “But there’s a premium you have to pay for that.”

Until San Diegans are able and willing to pay, local seafood will be a delicacy best enjoyed in Beijing.

“We want to expose locals and visitors to what San Diego has, rather than fly lobster in from 3,000 miles away,” says Foshee. “But the only way I can rationalize doing it is at an exorbitant price.”

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

More »Related Stories

The Best Places to Dock and Dine in San Diego (and How to Get There)

Leave the car at the marina and sail right up to San Diego’s best waterfront eateries

5 Zero-Hassle Things to Do on the Fourth of July

Your last minute, no-ticket-necessary guide to what to do before, during, and after the fireworks

San Diego Fourth of July Guide 2018

Celebrate Independence Day all weekend (and week!) long with fireworks, barbecues, cocktails, staycations, and more
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. San Diego's Best Restaurants 2018
    Dig into the 260 winners defining San Diego’s food scene in 2018
  2. Your 2018 San Diego Summer Bucket List
    Here’s our insider’s guide for Memorial Day through Labor Day
  3. San Diego's Best Restaurant of 2018: The Finalists
    San Diego Magazine's Best Restaurants issue comes out in June. Here are food critic Troy Johnson's finalists for the best of the best.
  4. The Coolest Things Happening in San Diego Beer Right Now
    A dive into the new, notable, and lesser-known in our city’s beer scene
  5. Good Night, Cafe Chloe
    San Diego’s beloved French bistro is closing due to California’s unfair labor laws
  6. Pacific Gate: Downtown Living at its Finest
    Bosa Development brings Super Prime luxury to Downtown San Diego
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Promotions

Vote Now for Your Orangetheory Winner!

Winners will be announced at our Sweat event on May 12

Not Your Grandma's Orthotics

New year, new – shoe? Staying on your feet for long hours at a time just got a whole lot more comfortable with Wiivv’s BASE custom insoles
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module
Edit Module

Connect With Us:

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Sponsored

AquaVie: 10 Reasons It’s Downtown’s Best Kept Secret

The best workout and spa getaway around? It’s actually right underneath your nose.

Enter a Drawing You Could Actually Win

There are more than 1,700 prizes in the Dream House Raffle
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags