Port of San Diego seeks to expand tuna market

By: Parimal M. Rohit

SAN DIEGO — A tuna market at the Port of San Diego — and others similar to it up and down the California coast — could get a little boost from the state’s largest inland metropolis.

San Diego was once known as the tuna capital of the world, according to San Diego County Supervisor Greg Cox. It is a title San Diego hopes to reclaim with the recent opening of Tuna Harbor Dockside Market (THDM), an open air seafood market operated by local fishermen and aquaculturists.

Peter Halmay, who is a director of THDM, said the new tuna market — which opened Aug. 2, 2014 — will help establish a sense of community at the port.

“It brings a community to the harbor to experience a connection with the ocean and fish. It’s also a connection to the culture and history of San Diego,” Halmay said.

The tuna market could do more than bring a community together — it could help state legislators in Sacramento develop standards for venues such as THDM to be regulated the same as other facilities.

California Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins introduced Assembly Bill 226 earlier this month. If passed, only licensed commercial fishermen and aquaculturists would be allowed to sell raw fish to consumers in a fishermen’s market.

“This bill would create a new type of nonpermanent food facility, defined as a ‘fishermen’s market,’” AB 226 states. “The bill would establish and impose food safety and sanitation requirements upon a fishermen’s market.”

AB 226 is colloquially known as “Pacific to Plate” and would create an exemption in state law to allow fishermen to clean fresh fish at the market for direct sale to consumers.

According to Port of San Diego staff, the bill also proposes to streamline the permitting process to allow fishermen’s markets to operate the same as certified farmer’s markets. Also, the bill, if passed and signed into law, would allow permanent open-front seafood markets to be created with limited food preparation.

THDM, an open air fish market located at Fish Harbor Pier behind Seaport Village, could greatly benefit from AB 226. According to Port of San Diego staff, about 350 people purchase seafood from the market weekly. An estimated 1.1 tons of fish are sold each week, yielding $15,000 in total revenue.

Commissioner Greg Nelson said he hoped the tuna market could help the waterfront become a more active venue for all users of the port.

“I’m hopeful we’ll see [the uses at Port of San Diego] expanding, both to provide fresh, really good-tasting healthy food, but also look at other opportunities to expand activities on the waterfront,” Nelson said.

Several agencies and groups have contributed to creating and sustaining THDM since its opening more than six months ago, including county and port officials and California Sea Grant at USCD’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

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