It’s a far cry from Pike’s Place Market — Seattle’s bustling, fish-throwing seafood mecca — but buying local rockfish, sea urchin, crabs and more directly from San Diego fishermen is about to get a whole lot easier.

Less than one month after we wrote about a group of local commercial fishermen’s struggle to secure a seafood market of their own, County Supervisor Greg Cox and Unified Port of San Diego Chairman Bob Nelson announced Wednesday that permits have been issued, and San Diego’s Tuna Harbor Dockside Market will open for business on Fish Harbor Pier Aug. 2.

Photo by Clare Leschin-Hoar
Photo by Clare Leschin-Hoar
County Supervisor Greg Cox announced Wednesday that San Diego’s Tuna Harbor Dockside Market will open on Fish Harbor Pier Aug. 2.

“For about a year they told us it couldn’t be done,” said Peter Halmay, a local sea urchin diver who’s president of the San Diego Fishermen’s Working Group. “And then we met with Supervisor Cox and the chairman from the Port, and within two weeks it was done.”

As a workaround, Halmay and others have been selling their catches off a boat docked in the harbor.

Cox, wearing his best fish-themed tie, managed to work an impressive number of fish puns into the announcement, including “casting a long reel” “hoping to get a big catch” and “we landed a whopper.”

In addition to helping the fishermen secure a permanent home, Cox said he was also prompted by the health benefits a fresh local seafood market will provide to San Diego residents. Americans eat less than 15 pounds of seafood a year (compared with nearly 70 pounds of poultry, and 100 pounds of beef), and a recent FDA/EPA announcement encouraged pregnant women to quadruple the amount of seafood they consume. Cox says the new fish market will help increase seafood consumption, bolstering the county’s LiveWell San Diego initiative.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

Part of the problem was that the fishermen fell in a regulatory crack. They couldn’t be classified as a farmers market under current regulations, which meant they were unable to get the permits they needed from the County Department of Environmental Health, the agency responsible for ensuring food operators comply with public health and safety rules. But for now, those details have been worked out.

“As of Friday, the Port has issued permits to begin operation,” said Nelson. “So with permits issued by the county and permits issued by the Port of San Diego, we’re ready to start this.”

Cox will present a proposal to promote the market at the July 29 the Board of Supervisors meeting, where he’ll ask the board to work closely with the Port District to support the market, to direct the Department of Environmental Health to continue to work with the fishermen to secure a long-term permit and to report back in 180 days with any state-wide legislative recommendations.

“San Diego used to be the tuna capital of the world,” said Cox. “The number of commercial fishermen in the region has dropped drastically. It’s 40 percent of what it was 30 years ago, and whatever we can do to help them, we should be doing.”

Fisherman Zack Roach Jr. said he’s surprised at how quickly the market is coming together, and will be ready with plenty of fish for opening day.

“It’s speed-rocketing through. It’s awesome,” said Roach.

For Halmay, establishing a dockside market isn’t just about finding another venue to market locally caught fish.

“We think it’s not only important to sell fish, but to sell the idea that fishing exists in San Diego and it’s going to thrive.”

Correction: The Live Well San Diego initiative is a countywide program, not a city program.

    This article relates to: Active Voice, Corrections, Food, News, San Diego County Government

    Written by Clare Leschin-Hoar

    Clare Leschin-Hoar is a contributor to Voice of San Diego. Follow her on Twitter @c_leschin or email her

    mel luce
    mel luce subscriber

    It's about time!!!  How could we possibly be America's Finest City without a fish market?  Though I don't want it to smell like the good old days when we had a huge tuna fleet, I do want the choice of going down and picking up some fresh fish and hopefully some fresh shrimp too!  We had ignored the fishermen for way too long and have not been sincere to our past.  I hope we have a great big market that has fish all sorts of ways, maybe incorporate fresh produce and tortillas too.  Anticipation grows!!

    Craig Carter
    Craig Carter subscriber

    I think  Shelter Island area would be better because of parking. I want to go down and buy some fish but where am I going to park on the weekend? Just saying.  I hope they prove me wrong or maybe set up some sort of charcoal grill etc. similar to Ports O Call in San Pedro. I just can't see myself driving down on the weekend searching for paid parking to buy expensive fresh fish. Grill it for me with some tortillas etc. I might bite! 

    Pat Seaborg
    Pat Seaborg subscribermember

    @Craig Carter  Parking at Tuna Harbor on Saturday mornings is not difficult if you get there early enough to get the best fish.  Only after the Fish Market Restaurant opens and the Midway gets pumping does the area see a lot of traffic (I live near there).  Also, can take the trolley to the Seaport Village stop.

    Congratulations to Zach for getting this done. His fish is the best and he's been hoping to get this started for a long time. 

    Judith Swink
    Judith Swink subscriber

    @Craig Carter A primary reason for this location is the pre-existing pier. Park at the G St. Mole or the smaller lot just south of the Mole or the spaces on Pacific Hwy by Ruocco Park. There's also a small lot to the right before you enter the pay-parking at the foot of Pacific Hwy. Early morning is the best time both to park and to buy fish.

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    Very nice development. Will add more character to the bay.

    Matty Azure
    Matty Azure subscriber

    "Tell 'em Charlie sent ya!"



    Bob Nelson
    Bob Nelson subscribermember

    Another example of leadership by Supervisor Greg Cox. A project everyone desired -- caught in limbo -- is now ready to go because County Health and Port District staff made it a priority to help the fishermen deal with the complicated requirements involved. To the County Health Department and Port of San Diego staff: congratulations for a job well done in service to the public.