By David Sneed
Lori French says California fishermen have unfairly received a bad reputation.
A lot of people think fishermen harm the ocean environment. In reality, 90 percent of commercial fishing boats are family-owned businesses that have been fishing sustainably for generations, she said.
French, who’s married to Morro Bay fisherman Jeff French, is part of a growing effort to educate the public about fishermen and the food they produce.
The Morro Bay woman recently obtained a $35,000 grant to start “The Faces of California Fishing” campaign, which is designed to put a human face on the state’s family fishermen.
“There’s a real need for awareness when it comes to seafood,” she said. “Most people aren’t aware of where seafood comes from, how it is regulated for health and environmental standards and who actually caught it.”
The campaign is the result of research that shows consumers prefer locally caught seafood and are willing to pay more for it if they know that harvesting the fish
did not damage the ocean environment. A recent survey of households in
the state by the Monterey-based Alliance of Communities for Sustainable Fisheries showed that Californians realize that the state’s fishing industry is one of the most regulated in the world.
Eighty-two percent of respondents said they would rather buy locally caught seafood, and 63 percent would not be willing to buy imported seafood if that meant putting the state’s family fishermen out of business.
Fishermen and environmentalists are hoping to capitalize on that knowledge. They can market their catch as locally and sustainably caught and charge premium prices for it.
“People are frustrated when they eat at a restaurant in Morro Bay and see Hawaiian-caught fish on the menu,” said Michael Bell, Central Coast fisheries program manager for The Nature Conservancy. “They want more local choices.”
Morro Bay fish buyer and seafood restaurant owner Mark Tognazzini labels the seafood he sells in his market and restaurants that was landed in Morro Bay and Port San Luis as “wild/local.” He sometimes goes as far as listing the name of the local fisherman who caught it.
This demand for locally and sustainably caught seafood extends to larger markets in Los Angeles and the Bay Area. Buyers there have told local fishermen that they will take all the high-quality seafood they can produce.
LEARN MORE ABOUT FISHERMEN
Check out www.thefacesofcaliforniafishing.com. It has information about where to buy locally caught fish in markets and directly off fisher-men’s boats, short biographies of fishermen, seafood recipes and fishing lore. Lori French said she hopes the Web site will reassure seafood consumers and producers alike. “We want to let people know we are here and we are not going anywhere.”