Samantha Weigel/Daily Journal
Princeton Seafood Company General Manager Robin O’Connor helps customer Lee Misuk pick out which catch to take home.
Fisherman Jerry Pemberton brings out three of his freshly caught salmon he plans to serve for Memorial Day weekend.
With poor weather conditions and fish biting further north, some fishermen at Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay are hoping commercial salmon season will start to pick up over the next few weeks.
The season started at the beginning of the month and although May has historically been slow, this year is worse than others, said John Szostak, a commercial fisherman at Pillar Point and captain of the Fortuna.
Most of those who have been lucky enough to bring in a decent catch have had to travel north to Bodega Bay and the Farallon Islands. But just because only a few salmon have made it onto the hook locally, that doesn’t necessarily indicate an unhealthy ocean fishery, Szostak said.
“The [salmon] are healthy and they’re a good size. So I look at that rather than the number of fish,” Szostak said.
Szostak said he’s been fishing for more than 30 years and now serves on the Commercial Salmon Trollers Advisory Committee, a nonprofit that helps to oversee the expenditure of funds gathered from fishermen after they passed legislation agreeing to tax themselves in the 1990s.
The tax is known as the salmon stamp, from which funds are used toward projects that promote sustainable fisheries such as stream restorations, feeding some of the hatchery fish and coated-wire tag programs, said Jim Anderson, captain of the Allaine. Anderson is a commercial fisherman who is involved in statewide salmon conservation efforts and advocating for the local fishing community in Half Moon Bay.
To promote healthy salmon populations and combat drought conditions, government and local agencies are releasing juvenile salmon from hatcheries down river or into the ocean.
Anderson said three years ago they started a similar program and tagging fish in Half Moon Bay. Because salmon take about three years to fully grow, Anderson said he’s hoping to gather data that will help them understand problem areas and behaviors.
Yet because it’s been a slow start to the season, Anderson and Szostak said they’ll wait for things to pick up before they start going out to fish.
“If it’s slow, it’s kind of hard to justify going out and driving around for nothing. We’re hoping that it’s just one of those natural things when the season just is a little late,” Anderson said. “We’re kind of hoping it’s not that [the salmon have] shifted into Northern California or Oregon.”
Jerry Pemberton has been fishing for 30 years and said his traveling further north has allowed him to take in 75 to 80 fish in just three weeks. When some of the fisherman are forced to travel north and end up unloading their harvest elsewhere, it can be rough on Pillar Point Harbor because they don’t collect offloading fees, Pemberton said.
Pemberton said he was able to bring in three big beauties this week, which he’ll save for Memorial Day weekend.
Pemberton anticipated another fisherman would be bringing in a haul Thursday but, with the way the market has been, expects he’ll sell out fast.
Robin O’Connor, general manager of the Princeton Seafood Company, says the restaurant and market strive to sell out every day. There’s no place fresher or cheaper to buy salmon than off the boat or at the market at the harbor, O’Connor said.
Lee Misuk, a San Jose resident, said she drove up to Half Moon Bay just to buy seafood.
“It’s cheaper than Ranch 99,” Misuk said. “I always come here and walk around. … (it’s) worth driving [all] the way.”
Misuk said one of the reasons her family loves salmon is because there are so many different ways it can be prepared.
Sport fisherman Dave Johnsen said he plans on taking his boat out for fun and to bring home what he and his family adore.
“The flavor and the excitement of the catch. I love eating [salmon] and so does my family. It’s good for you and it’s awesome to be out on the ocean,” Johnsen said.
Plus, when packed well, salmon freezes better than other types of fish and can last longer, Johnsen said.
Pemberton said the price per pound always depends on the market. Currently, it’s running between $10 and $12 per pound off the boat, however, pricing varies heavily based on supply and demand, Pemberton said.
Although some of the commercial fishermen may be offloading closer to where they’re catching salmon, Pemberton said he hopes the fish start moving further south and bring more tourists down to the boats.
The public can buy whole fish, often as fresh as a day old, directly from the fisherman at Pillar Point Harbor. The off-the-boat sale prices are generally cheaper than at a market, however, pricing does vary.
For updates on which boats are selling at any given time, download the free FishLine app available on iTunes or call the Pillar Point Harbormaster at (650) 726-4382.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106