Coast of San Diego

The Fish are Biting. Restaurants are not

San Diego seafood industry struggles to stay afloat

NBCUniversal, Inc.

The fish are biting. In fact, the catches are really good off the coast of San Diego and Mexico.

The problem is the restaurants aren’t biting.

“I mean, what else are we going to do?” said Pete Grillo who owns two fishing boats. “We’re trying to keep people safe, but at the same time, we got to keep people fed.”

On Wednesday, one of Grillo’s boats delivered 30,000 pounds of tuna to San Diego’s Embarcadero. It used to take less than two days to sell that much tuna before the global pandemic.

“Now? It’s taking us four or five days, a week to unload the fish and sell it mostly to the public,” Grillo said. “Basically, our markets have completely dried up.”

“Fishermen are having a very hard time with this,” Dave Rudie said.

Rudie, who founded Catalina Offshore Products more than 40 years ago, regularly bought all 30,000 pounds of Grillo’s fish. He said he can only buy a fraction now because restaurants are closed or drastically cutting back business.

“I’ve been through storms in the ocean where my boat almost flipped over,” said Rudie, a fisherman himself. “This is a storm. This is the biggest storm I’ve ever been through.”

Rudie said Catalina Offshore Products lost 70% of his business the day the stay-at-home order shuttered many businesses.  He’s trying to gain it back by selling directly to the public from the market inside his own facility.

“We’re trying to make the best of a bad situation,” he said.

Grillo has also evolved his business.  He’s also selling directly to public through his Atlantic Pacific Tuna Facebook page.  He hired a platoon of drivers who will deliver seafood directly to homes.

“If we can’t work through this, coming out the other side, there’ll be nothing,” Grillo said.

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