In pursuit of sustainable seafood in san diego

Many moons ago, I had this fabulous idea to put together a website resource to help residents find local, sustainable seafood in San Diego. That shouldn’t be hard, right? 


poppa_fresh_fishSeveral iterations later, we’re still defining “sustainable” and trying to break down what that means here in San Diego. Even though I use the word in a ton of our communications, I’ve come to realize that the word “sustainable” is one I’d like to drop like those last five pounds.  

What does it mean anyway?  

You can ask five different people and get five different answers. It’s a buzz word that embodies all things Earth friendly, but everyone’s definition of what’s good for the planet differs, right? You may drive a Prius and feel good about reducing your carbon footprint. But I ride a bike because I don’t think a hybrid is enough. But my neighbor works from home. Who’s right? In some degree, we all are. We are all making steps to reduce our impact

Surely “local” is easier to define. But as it turns out, some fishermen consider “local” to be what’s caught in Baja, but that seems pretty far to me. 

A few weeks ago, I went to the OB Farmers market to pick up my CSA from Suzie’s Farm and buy fruit from Smit Orchards, when I happened to walk by Poppa’s Fresh Fish. I remember reading about this booth on Yelp and salivating at the reviews of this guy’s fish sandwiches. And then I saw that he also sold fresh fish fillets.  

So I decided to ask questions.  

Maybe I got lucky, but I randomly asked the owner of Poppa’s Fresh Fish, Mark, and he’s been a wealth of knowledge. And patience. My favorite part of our conversations and emails about what sustainable and local seafood means to him and to me is that he keeps encouraging me to ask questions. And he gives me the straight shootin’ answer. I’ve learned that we don’t always agree on what is sustainable or local, but he helps me find fish that meets my needs and that’s important.

Here are few things that I’ve learned from him: 

1) I wanted fish caught hook & line, but the only two fishermen he buys from that do this are currently taking advantage of lobster season, and therefore not fishing.

2) He warned me about deep set fish & line, which means it’s one line but it holds several short lines shooting off of it, which produces a lot of bycatch (this means catching fish that you didn’t intend to catch).

3) He has a guy that will butterfly net a fish, which means he dives into the water with a net and will scoop up one fish. It’s more expensive to buy fish this way, but guarantees zero bycatch and local waters.

poppa_sea_urchin4) Sea urchins seem popular right now. And when he serves them from his booth, they are still moving. (Ok, we didn’t discuss this, but I did watch it happen.) I hear sea urchin tastes great, and they currently have  healthy population numbers.

5) If I email him a few days in advance, he’ll save me a side of fish, which costs less because it requires less work on his end. This deal makes it easier for a budget-sensitive shopper to make the best decision on purchasing local, sustainable fish. 

We hope to publish our sustainable seafood in San Diego guide soon. Your input is valuable: what do you consider local, sustainable seafood? 


Published in Marine Conservation

Latest from San Diego Coastkeeper

2 Responses for In pursuit of sustainable seafood in san diego

  1. Rox says:

    My boyfriend and I were at Pike’s Market in Seattle, Washington and there were Morel Mushrooms for like $50/lb. My boyfriend told the guy that he finds them randomly in the woods out back from his house in Pennsylvania. The Grocer said, well these are “local” mushrooms. My boyfriend asked where they were from…the guy says: MONTANA.

    Also, as a side note, urchins are popular, especially in sushi. Some argue their numbers are up because their natural predator (otters) are in decline. Some argue urchin harvesters are responsible for the demise of the otters. On the other hand, the fact that the urchin are abundant means by eating them you are restoring balance…

    Isn’t that what “sustainable” is? To me, something is sustainable if it can be done, harvested, etc. without disturbing the equillibrium necessary to keep an ecosystem self-sufficient. 🙂 Nice article!

  2. JO says:

    Hi Roxy. I can’t remember the last time I considered Montana as local! But isn’t that true, when you’re considering that mushrooms could be imported from anywhere, a nearby state could be more local than, say, Malaysia. It’s all in the definition. One word can mean the world of difference. In regard to the urchin, you’re exactly right about the otter issue. In fact, when I was writing that bullet point, I first had said that urchins are in over abundance, but, as you pointed out, if our otter population was healthier, than maybe our urchin population would be more in balance. So, I decided to say that “right now they have healthy populations” because the balance could change at any time.

    Thanks so much for reading.

    Jamie Ortiz