Since the coronavirus pandemic hit, meat plants and food processors across the country have closed after they became hot spots for the easily transmittable disease.
This has resulted in disruptions to the supply chain. Retailers limited the number of protein products customers can buy per trip, and fast food chains reported a shortage of meat. Grocery stores are also seeing less fresh fish and poultry gracing the shelves.
Locally, however, some fishermen and ranchers are noticing a slight boost in business as people turn to online delivery of food and seek protein options they can buy in their own community.
“A lot of the people who’ve bought fish from me in the last few weeks did not know you could normally go to the harbor and buy fish directly from the person who caught it,” Montara fisherman Jake Bunch said. “It’s been a blessing to educate people about the resources that are at their fingertips.”
When the state issued its shelter-in-place orders in March, the San Mateo County Harbor District banned fish sales from the docks at Pillar Point Harbor. This caused several fishermen to report a decline in sales, which threatened their business.
However, fishermen like Bunch have adapted their business models to sell fish to customers through local delivery or pickup. Bunch said that before all this started, he’d be gearing up for a busy salmon season, but with the shelter-in-place restrictions he’s cut back hours to assist home-schooling his two daughters.
So while he can’t be on the water for days fishing, he’s spending less time on his boat and more time marketing his catch on social media sites to sell it directly from his house in Montara.
“I think people are looking to transition to some element of wanting to support local seafood,” Bunch said. “People can pick it up and have fish for dinner, and it’s quite inexpensive.”
The local demand is there, but business in general is down, according to Bunch. His usual wholesale buyer is also not selling the same amount of fish because restaurants are closed.
“Being a fisherman is a hustle all the time,” he said. “You’re always trying to get the most money for your effort.”
Adrian Hoffman is a chef and a co-founder of Four Star Seafood, a fish wholesale business. He said when the stay-at-home orders were first announced he immediately transitioned his company to an e-commerce model, selling fish online to customers throughout California. He buys fish all over the Bay Area, including Half Moon Bay. The response has been “overwhelmingly positive” from customers he said.
“People are so pleased they can get restaurant-quality seafood,” he said. “You are lucky to go into the grocery store these days and find fresh seafood.”
He’s expanded his business to sell fresh poultry and produce from local ranchers and farmers.
“I think since we’re more of a younger company we’ve just been able to roll with the punches and adapt,” he said.
But despite seeing a demand from people wanting locally sourced protein, sales are still down compared to years prior.
“We’re selling a fraction of the volume,” he said.
This trickles down to the fishermen who work with Hoffman. Typically he works with eight to 10 fishermen for each type of fish sold; now he’s had to cut that down to three.
“I wish I could buy more fish,” he said. “It’s definitely hurting the fishermen.”