BY TOMMY GOMES AS TOLD TO MICHAEL A. GARDINER
When people go to the grocery store, they don’t understand the real value of a fish. They may think it’s the retail price. Or maybe it’s the wholesale price. What they don’t get, though, is that even before the fishing boat leaves the dock, that one little fish has created a whole lot of jobs.
Start with the grocery store: You have the stock clerks, the baggers, the cashiers, the guys in the fish department, and more. All of them have to get to the store, which means they have to gas up their cars. That creates jobs.
Then there’s the boat. That’s got to be gassed up too. And it takes guys to build it and fit it out with corks and floats and lead lines and buoy lines. It takes a lot to gear out a boat. Then that boat needs all the stuff that factors into going fishing. You need all sorts of provisions, which starts with the guys who make and sell those provisions, but there are also jobs for the forklift drivers and truck drivers who bring the supplies down to the boat.
That’s all before the boat pulls away from the dock. How many people are on that boat depends on the size of the boat. A 90-foot longline boat has probably got six or seven guys on board. There’s also a government observer—an agent from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) whose job is to make sure they’re doing it right. It’s kind of like driving your car with a CHP officer in the passenger seat, only you also have to feed him. That’s another job that fish creates.
The fish creates more jobs back at the docks. Someone has to unload the fish from the boat. You’ve got truck drivers, ice machines, box companies—and that’s before the fish gets to the distribution center where it’s broken down into loins and portions and then vacuum-packed and prepared for sale.
At every step, that fish is creating more jobs. And that’s before the fish gets put on a truck and goes to another distributor that gets it to the restaurants. This all has to happen quickly. People save their pennies to eat high-quality seafood and even the best fish goes bad if it’s not handled quickly and properly. There’s a clock ticking from the moment that fish comes out of the water.
When the fish gets to the restaurant, it creates jobs at the front of the house (hosts, servers, bussers, etc.) and back of the house (chefs, line cooks, dishwashers, etc.). Even after the meal is done and the restaurant shuts down for the night, it continues creating jobs as what’s left of it is discarded, goes to waste management, and is picked up and taken to the dump.
That fish is not just part of San Diego’s working waterfront, it is the key to our success. It’s why it’s important to buy fish at retail that is truly local and that contributes to our local blue economy. That fish is so much more than just a delicious meal.
Follow That Fish originally in published in the summer 2023 issue.