New law streamlines permit for direct sales to consumers
Last week Gov. Jerry Brown signed the so-called "Pacific to Plate" bill making it easier for commercial fishermen to sell their catch directly to consumers by streamlining permits and other requirements to create local fishermen's markets.Sponsored by Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), AB 226 "allows fishermen's markets to operate as food facilities, vendors to clean their fish for direct sale, and multiple fishermen to organize a market under a single permit," according to a press release from California Sea Grant, a partnership between federal fisheries managers, the state of California and state universities, that spearheaded the "Pacific to Plate" bill.
Previously, fishermen could sell their catch directly off their boat or at local farmer's markets, but there were often heavy restrictions on selling at farmer's markets, like selling the fish whole, when many customers would rather have a small fillet. By creating a new category of non-permanent food facilities - a fishermen's market - the bill should smooth the direct sale of fish.
With the ink still drying on the governor's signature, it may be too
early to tell what effect the new law will have on the North Coast, but
Crescent CIty Farmer's Market Manager Ron Phillips said he thinks it
will be a positive thing for commercial fishermen selling at market.
Again, it's still early to say, he said.
"There's a demand for fish at the farmer's market so i hope it works
out great and someone takes advantage of it. They have six months to
figure it out," Phillips said, with Oct. 31 being the last market day of
Fishermen will now be able to sell fillets whereas before they were required to sell whole fish, Phillips said.
Wearing his other hat as a Crescent City Harbor Commissioner,
Phillips said his quick reading of the bill did not clearly outline the
path for a fishermen's market to open in Crescent City Harbor but that
will depend on what new requirements the Del Norte County environmental
health department creates to comply with the law.
As the local health agency, the Del Norte environmental health
department, is responsible for enforcing the California Retail Food
Code, which in addition to farmer's markets, will now include
Brian McNally, director of the environmental health department, said
he read earlier versions of the bill but not the final version becoming
law last week and could not speak to what changes it might bring to the
county. McNally said he imagined a fishermen's market from the bill
would be established at the harbor and not at the currently established
A significant hurdle commercial fishermen face when trying to sell
direct to consumers is the way that the West Coast's large seafood
buyers, most notably Pacific Seafood, treat fishermen: all or nothing.
"These fishermen coming in locally don't have a lot of leeway in selling their fish," Phillips said.
Knowledge of the 'all or nothing' practice was acknowledged by both
Phillips and Joe Tyburczy, the California Sea Grant scientist for the
North Coast region, as something done by Pacific Seafood and other large
buyers. The large buyers are known to not buy seafood from fishermen
that sell any of their catch to other sources, such as at a farmer's
market. And with a near-monopoly on the West Coast seafood trade,
fishermen can't afford to be cut off from the large buyers.
Although alternative marketing arrangements like selling to a
fishermen's market might fetch a higher price per pound, the demand from
direct consumers is not likely to be enough to buy all of the
fishermen's catch, making a good relationship with large buyers
necessary for survival.
"That is a big concern. That's the other big political economic
question: 'how viable will this thing be up in our area because if
Pacific and other processors behave in that way, that is strong
deterrent to any type of alternative marketing situation," said
Tyburczy, adding the issue frequently comes up in talks with local
fishermen. "It's definitely a concern to be addressed."
But when not talking about seafood buyers using market clout to
muscle fishermen, Tyburczy said that there has also been a lot of
interest in the Eureka area of transferring the interest in the local
food movement to a higher demand for direct fish sales.
"There's not a more consistent availability even though there are things being caught year-round," Tyburczy said.
The Pacific to Plate initiative started in San Diego when fishermen's
direct-sales plight caught the attention of California Sea Grant
scientist Theresa Talley, who had fond memories of buying oysters and
clams on the East Coast.
"One hold up in the launching of a fishermen's market stemmed from a
general lack of confidence in whether a it could succeed," Talley said
in the Sea Grant press release. "So we decided to look at: What's the
supply? What's the demand?"
During the fall and winter of 2013, Talley and a colleague conducted a
study to put a number on this demand. The study showed a high demand
in local seafood and became a great tool for San Diego fishermen to
advocate for looser fishermen's market regulations.
The buzz generated by the study and talk of a local fishermen's
market encouraged local government officials to issue a temporary permit
for a fishermen's market. More than 1,300 people showed up for the Tuna
Harbor Dockside Market opening in August 2014.
"In its first months, the market averaged an impressive 350 customers
and 1.1 tons of seafood sold each week, generating about $15,000 in
direct sales," the press release states.
As the San Diego County Board of Supervisors sought long-term
permitting options for the market, the Pacific to Plate bill was born,
and now other coastal communities in California will have the
opportunity to repeat the market in San Diego.
But on the much less populous North Coast, it's unclear how the new bill will play out.
"If there was continuous availability, that might bring in more
people but is there a enough demand to make it worth the fishermen's
time?" Tyburczy said.
Atkins, the bill's author thinks that the popularity of farmer's markets in recent years will transfer to fish.
"As we've seen by the massive growth of farmers markets across the
state, allowing direct sales of produce benefits farmers and consumers,"
said Speaker Atkins in a press release. "These small-business owners
and coastal communities throughout California deserve these same
opportunities. Pacific to Plate does this by removing unnecessary
hurdles in state law."
Even after the bill is digested by local health agencies and
interested fishermen also sink their teeth in, the issue with seafood
processors will remain.
"It will be interesting to see how many folks are interested and dive
in, but there is this hurdle of navigating the issues with the
processors," Tyburczy said.
Any commercial fishermen or other stakeholders interested in more
information or providing input related to the Pacific to Plate bill are
invited to call California Sea Grant scientist Joe Tyburczy at