Pillar Point closed
Citing social distancing hazards, the San Mateo County Harbor District closed Johnson Pier and other areas in April. Review file photo

With the Easter holiday on the horizon, many fishermen at Pillar Point Harbor were hoping for an increase in sales as they prepare for the upcoming salmon season. Now they will have to do so without selling directly to consumers on the docks.

After county and statewide shelter-in-place orders last month, local jurisdictions worked to quickly adapt with the regulations. The San Mateo County Harbor District announced on March 23 the restrooms at both Pillar Point Harbor and Oyster Point Marina were closed to the public. A few days later, it went further and prohibited all off-the-dock fish sales and access to Johnson Pier. Officials said having people walk the pier was too risky and did not meet the requirement to encourage social distancing.

“Currently members of the public cannot go onto the docks to purchase fish,” General Manager Jim Pruett said. “Because the dock cannot be maintained, it’s too difficult for staff to facilitate escorting people on and off the pier.”

Pruett said some fishermen had requested the district allow fish sales by having someone escort customers on and off the dock. He said that would strain Harbor Patrol staff and was not feasible.

Fisherman Todd Korth primarily operates by off-of-dock sales. The ban is costing him about $10,000 per week, he said.

“This is damaging the fishing industry pretty significantly,” he said. “Based upon this, our business is done.”

Korth said he was surprised by the district’s decision, because fishermen are considered “essential workers” providing people with food.

“We are more sterile and safe than going to Safeway to purchase food,” Korth said. “Food production is essential and they (the district) are defying a state order. Customers are at a greater risk by going to a grocery store.”

Harbor commissioners discussed the ban at the district’s regular board meeting on April 2.

“This is a difficult decision. It’s not just about the livelihood of the fishermen. It’s also a recreational hobby,” Commissioner Virginia Chang Kiraly said. “But with the welfare of the live-aboards and staff, this is the right decision.”

Commissioner Tom Mattusch said some fishermen in San Francisco have been able to sell their catch by transitioning to a delivery service.

“We are in a whole new world here and people are having to do things they never thought they’d do before,” Commissioner Sabrina Brennan said. “Home delivery of fish seems like an option, but it is asking fishermen to basically adopt a new business model and not everyone wants to do that.”

Korth said starting a delivery system has its challenges because it requires transporting perishable food, which can cause certain health risks, such as food-borne illnesses.

“It’s not a workable solution,” Korth said.

Brennan said she is working on a video conference meeting with some of the fishermen to brainstorm ideas to assist during the state of emergency, including possibly looking at providing a grant for a delivery truck.

“It sucks for the fishermen. There is no question this is an imposition on them, but it’s not a problem I can solve

for them,” she said. “I can make suggestions on how to tweak the business model or facilitate ways to help deliver the fish.” 

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