Santa Barbara commercial fishing industry shifts focus to local demand amid Covid-19

Commercial Fishermen of Santa Barbara President Chris Voss reported many anglers have shifted their market focus to direct sales to the community.

SANTA BARBARA—Like many other businesses and restaurants, commercial fishing took a big hit due to Covid-19 and related restrictions. With market demand overseas evaporated and food service purchases virtually non-existent, according to Commercial Fishermen of Santa Barbara (CFSB) President Chris Voss, many anglers were underemployed but have now been turning to direct sales to the community.

“We’ve seen a pretty significant surge in the number of vendors that have been using the Saturday market,” said Voss while giving a rundown of the status of the local commercial fishing industry to Santa Barbara Harbor Commissioners at their meeting on May 21.

The Santa Barbara commercial fishing industry employs about 200 independent fishermen and is a $35 million industry in the harbor.

Voss reported CFSB received $30,000 in grant funds to buy fish from local anglers, process it locally and donate it to the Santa Barbara Food Bank in an effort to meet their food needs. Voss reported they have seen the local community demand for seafood skyrocket.

“We’re positioned well to adapt and embrace the kind of new reality this pandemic has created within supply chains and demand,” Voss said.

Get Hooked Seafood co-owner and CFSB Executive Director Kim Selkoe also spoke at the May 21 meeting. Get Hooked is a subscription-based program delivering quality sustainable seafood, sourced directly from local fishermen.

Selkoe reported they had 1,000 households participate in Get Hooked in the last 15 months since they started, 400 of which came on since the Covid-19 shelter in place took place. She said monthly deliveries have jumped from about 1,000 to 2,500.

“Seafood industry is a vital part of the recovery and can really just expand the economic diversity and resilience of our coastal community,” Selkoe said.

Both Voss and Selkoe spoke of their support for the Waterfront Department’s commitment to enhancing the infrastructure used by the commercial anglers, including the Ice House, Fish Hoist and cold storage.

Voss said he believes the fishing community can be a bright spot and help innovate the way out of this hard economic time.

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