When it comes to seafood value, Santa Barbara’s small boats rule.
The commercial fishing fleet’s $11.4 million in dockside sales in 2020 ranked number one among California ports. The fishermen reported the highest economic return for 26 species, including six of the state’s top 10 most popular species.
This news was not part of some public-facing report, however. The Commercial Fishermen of Santa Barbara — a nonprofit that represents nearly 200 boats that unload at the City Pier in the Santa Barbara Harbor annually — stumbled upon the realization while examining assessments collected by the California Fish & Wildlife Department as part of a forthcoming economic report on COVID impacts.
But the information confirmed what many of these fishermen suspected: that Santa Barbara’s seafood market is stronger than it has been in years. For decades, data shows that about 85 percent of Santa Barbara’s seafood was bought by out-of-town buyers for export markets. But by 2017, that percentage was dropping, and 2020’s report revealed that 50 percent of the catch is being sold to Santa Barbara entities.
“This shows the resilience of our industry to the massive market disruptions that COVID caused,” said Chris Voss, president of CFSB, in a press release.
The stocks also appear to be sustainable according to Kim Selkoe, CFSB’s executive director and the cofounder of the community supported fishery company Get Hooked Seafood. “Many of our most desirable fish stocks, like rockfish and lobster, are booming,” she said. “We forecast that the economic impacts of our local industry may double or triple in the next decade, if we maintain the port infrastructure needed to support fishing boats and seafood distribution.”
The fishermen have successfully lobbied both the City and County of Santa Barbara to express support for their work, including the city’s commitment of about $600,000 in funding to fix the City Pier’s icehouse. CFSB is also planning a new hub for Santa Barbara’s ocean industries called the Maritime Collective, which would provide storage and production space to support fishery growth.