For the Summer 2018 issue of San Diego Food System Spotlights, we interviewed local fisherman, John Law, on his way back from a day of fishing, enjoying Taco Tuesday. When asked what he ordered, Wild Alaskan Cod fish tacos from Rubios.
1. Please share the story and history of your fishing business.
When I was 15, my buddy and I went out to Mission Bay with a couple of fishing rods. My first cast was a horrible tangle, but when I got the tangle out, a Yellowfin Croaker was at the end of the line. It was the most magical moment and I’ve been hooked on fishing ever since. I never want to lose that spirit of being a kid and the excitement of going fishing, so I try to hold that childlike wonder and connection.
From then on, I went fishing in Mission Bay every chance I could. I was committed to getting on one of the sportboats I would see coming and going, and when I finally did, I saw bonita and barracuda and all the great things the ocean offers, there was no turning back.
I own and operate two boats named after Blazing Saddles, Rock Ridge and Wild West. I’m a small boat, coastal, day fishermen. I leave after sunrise and am back in the middle of the afternoon. I fish around a 15 mile radius of Mission Bay Harbor, primarily rockfish. I was introduced to rockfish by fisherman, Patrick Dean, in 1977. We went out in a similar boat to the ones I have now, in the same fishing spot with the same kind of fish. Not much has changed, except now I don't have long hair.
2. Why are you committed to local fishing?
I believe in the integrity of my product, selling quality fish at a reasonable price. I have a great relationship with the public and people I sell to, and I think that the worst thing would be to misrepresent the product, or sell poor quality.
I believe that just because it’s “local”, doesn’t mean it’s the highest quality. It needs to be taken care of properly. It’s important to note the misrepresentation of the word “local”. For example, the market name for halibut is “local halibut” but it could be fish from unregulated Mexican water.
3. What is your vision for your business?
At 58 years old, I know my career won't last forever but I have no desire to quit. I want to continue doing what I’m doing at whatever level is possible. As I get older I am doing less of the heavy lifting and interested in expanding the market for other fishermen who might not have as much desire in interacting with the public for sales. I have been buying and selling high quality fish from other fishermen, helping others get better prices for their fish and bringing more variety to the public.
They say you should always have a doctor, lawyer, and dentist in your life that you can trust. I want to add, fisherman to the list. It’s important to find someone that matches with your personality and the product you want and build that relationship.
4. What have been the biggest challenges for your business?
One of my biggest challenges is being undercut by a product that is less expensive but lesser quality. For example, I can call someone about a hook and line halibut that I caught 40 minutes ago, as fresh as possible, but they aren't interested because they can get cheaper fish elsewhere. I’m asking for a reasonable price for a high quality product and still being undercut by Mexico, which doesn’t have regulated waters, no coastal distance protection, and no protection for fish.
Mother nature is another challenge. There are a variety of conditions that can affect a day of fishing, including too much or too few fish and changing weather.
I compare my job to gambling. I get up in the morning, take my money and place my bet. My bet is my gasoline, ice, bait, crew wages, and all the expenses that come with a day of fishing. I bet on myself to do well that day. When I drive away from the dock, all that money is spent. I am betting that my boat is functioning, that I've used the right bait, that I’ll catch enough, and that the demand will be there. There are few days that I make it big, the rest I stay at the table. With fishing there are a few ways to win and a million ways to lose.
5. What do local fishermen need to succeed?
Infrastructure is key. Fisherman should feel confident that there is a safe and secure place to tie their boat up. They need to feel like a welcome part of the community. With the redevelopment of G street, the fishing community is getting squeezed into an area of entertainment. Fishermen need to have a place to conduct their business and there is always a need for more dock space devoted to the fishing community.
6. What do you want San Diegans to know?
I want San Diegans to know that they live in one of the most heavily regulated coastal states, in terms of fishing requirements and protection of resources. If your fish comes from a California fisherman, you don’t need to ask if it’s sustainable or viable, California seafood speaks for itself. It’s regulated so tightly that there is no question that you are buying the best available product for environmental sustainability. It’s as clean and green as it gets.
7. Where can San Diegans find you and your fish?
I am sporadically at Tuna Harbor Dockside Market. I also patronize restaurants that strongly support local fishermen and that have menus modeled after locally caught fish. Some of these include, Ironside, Juniper and Ivy, LionFish Restaurant, and Ceviche House.
8. What are you selling this week?
I catch and sell rockfish. From other fishermen, I sell line-caught halibut, black cod, and yellowtail.
9. What is your favorite fish to eat?
I like to eat anything that can be used for bait; sardines, anchovies, muscles, clams.
Although, I guess I should say a local fish...rockfish.
10. Any other thoughts you’d like to share?
I want the public to know that the ocean is healthier and more vibrant today than I could imagine. The fish, seals, whales are all thriving. No one loves the ocean more than a fisherman and no one needs the ocean to be healthy, more than a fisherman. From where I stand, the ocean is healthy. We don't have to save it, we just need to maintain it.
My final words I want to leave with...NO fish farms.