Shopping bags in hand, a steady stream of San Diegans lined up Saturday morning at Fish Harbor Pier to be the first customers at the grand opening of the city’s new open-air fish market.
The Dockside Fish Market at the downtown waterfront near Tuna Harbor and Seaport Village set up shop on the pier bright and early with local fishermen displaying their finest fresh catches in pop-up canopies as customers browsed the maritime merchandise.
Tables of freshly caught seafood on ice – including fish, lobster, crab and sea urchins – caught the eyes of many. The open-air marketplace buzzed with the chatter of deals being made between eager customers and local fishermen.
The harbor fish market was spearheaded by San Diego County Supervisor Greg Cox who announced plans to open the market to the public last month. Cox said the market would benefit the city, residents and fishermen.
On Saturday, as Cox watched locals line up to shop, he said the excitement on the pier was palpable.
“I think the San Diego region has been waiting for this for a long time,” Cox told NBC 7. “Just the people lining up here before they even open – it’s obviously a novelty because we haven’t had anything like this for a long, long time.”
“These were all fish that were out swimming out in the ocean yesterday. It’s a great opportunity for the fishermen and a great opportunity for the citizens of San Diego County,” he continued.
San Diego fisherman Peter Halmay has been fishing for 44 years and said having the open-air market at the harbor is a great way to create a bond between the community and the fishermen.
“Now we have the market that we’ve been wanting for many years. The idea is to bring the people down here, bring the fishermen down here to sell their fish directly. It’s a simple purpose,” Halmay explained. “They’re coming down to the harbor – getting reacquainted that the harbor exists.”
He said customers will be able to get fresh fish at a good price while fishermen get business and support.
Also, customers will be able to see exactly where their seafood comes from.
“There’s no cleaner traceability than ‘here’s the fish, here’s the fisherman, here’s his boat and he brought it in yesterday and here’s where he fished.’ Now you will know exactly [where your fish comes from] – you’re talking to the direct guy,” Halmay said.
The fisherman said he expects the market to get bigger and better each week, as it progresses.
Many seafood lovers walked away satisfied Saturday, saying they’d likely return to the pier.
Pacita Barangan bought some several red rockfish for a good price. She called the fresh food as “organic” as it gets.
“I’ll come every Saturday,” she said.
Shopper Mike Nunnally went to the pier with his family and said he was in the market for some rock crab, bluefin tuna and maybe some cod.
“We’re looking to buy some good fresh fish this morning,” said Nunnally. “It’s right off the boat, so this is as fresh as it gets. I’m excited to see what it looks like.”
Customer Heri Gallego walked away with a solid catch: a 5-pound rock cod he bought for $20. He had big, delicious plans for his purchase.
“I’m going to take it home and slice it and maybe plate it with banana leaves and some rice,” he said, smiling.
Gallego also said he’d be back.
“I hope that they continue doing this every Saturday. I think it’s good for everybody – it’s a winning situation for everybody here in San Diego. I’m surprised it took the city so long to do this,” he said.
For now, the plan is for the seaside marketplace to open for business every Saturday from 8 a.m. until the fishermen run out of seafood.
Cox said his vision is for the open-air fish market to become San Diego’s very own version of Seattle’s Pike Place Fish Market against the picturesque backdrop of the city’s waterfront.