New open-air fish market coming to downtown San Diego on August 2

SAN DIEGO - It may not be Fisherman's Wharf or Pike Place, but an open-air fish market of sorts is coming to San Diego next month.

The plan calls for fishing boats to tie-up at the Tuna Harbor Pier, near Seaport Village, on Saturdays beginning Aug. 2 and sell their fresh fish.

Permits have been issued for the market that are good for one year. The county Board of Supervisors plans to address how to help promote the market at its July 29 meeting.

"The best time of a fisherman's life is heading home, when you have a back deck full of sea urchins and you think you're a rich man. Then you sell it to a processor and reality comes in," said fisherman Peter Halmay.

Halmay has been catching sea urchin for 44 years. He said he doesn't do it for money, which is a good thing because there is less of it these days.

"I don't see doing anything else. I was a civil engineer back in 1970 and I went fishing for two years. I never went back," said Halmay.

He and other local fishermen will tell you the fishing industry is hurting in San Diego. In 1986, it's estimated there were close to 300 commercial fishermen in San Diego. Now, that number is closer to 130.

"I mean, we were at one point the tuna capital of the world. This is an opportunity to bring back some of that," said San Diego County Supervisor Greg Cox.

Cox heard the fishermen's plight. He wants to make things easier for them while revitalizing the waterfront. When local fishermen tried to open a market before, they were told by the Department of Agriculture that they would need a farmer's market permit. But there's a catch: fishermen don't qualify as farmers.

The open-air fish market will be right on the pier at Seaport Village on Harbor Drive -- inspired by the famous Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle. Cox said it will allow fishermen to make more than they would selling wholesale to restaurants, and would give San Diegans access to the freshest seafood.

"Seattle is famous for its Pike Place Fish Market," Cox said. "There's no reason San Diego, with its vibrant waterfront, busy fishing fleets and great year-round weather, can't have our own open air fish market."

"It's locally raised in the ocean, it's harvested and probably swam in the ocean last night. It's about as fresh as you could ever get it," Cox added.

There certainly seems to be a market for it in San Diego. A recent Scripps Institute of Oceanography study showed most locals are willing to drive 15-30 minutes to buy directly from a fisherman. They're also willing to shell out more, especially for fish like bluefin tuna and yellowtail.

Fishermen like Halmay have seen the industry change over four decades, and he said this is finally a step in the right direction.

"I'm 73 years old; I only got 25 years left and I got to retire, because nobody should fish past 100," said Halmay.

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