Tuesday, June 19 , 2018, 9:57 am | Fair 64º

 
 
 
 

Greg Gorga: Harbor Makes a Splash with Dockside Market Serving Up Freshest of Fish

It's a best-kept secret in Santa Barbara, and here are a few tricks of the trade

Troy Pack shows off a spider crab to a happy customer at the Navy Pier at the Santa Barbar Harbor. Click to view larger
Troy Pack shows off a spider crab to a happy customer at the Navy Pier at the Santa Barbar Harbor. (Greg Gorga photo / Santa Barbara Maritime Museum)

At 3 a.m., when most of Santa Barbara is sleeping, the Harbor is bustling with activity — busy bringing in the freshest, and most sustainable, seafood our channel offers.

Have you ever stopped by The Cultured Abalone, owned by Doug Bush? Last week, he was selling farmed red abalones purchased from Victor Salutan. The abalone are farmed on the historic Dos Pueblos Ranch and were taken from their tanks that morning, so they were very fresh and still alive. Bush’s abalones are 3 years old, about 3¼ inch and $7 each.

Abalone are great breaded and sautéed, but make sure to pick up a tenderizing tool from Victor, because you usually want to pound the abalone before cooking.

The Harbor is the best place to buy fish, and a best-kept secret in Santa Barbara. Here are a few tricks of the trade:

» The fishermen expect some haggling over prices, especially when buying in bulk. (But remember, they work hard for their living, waking up when others are going to bed, battling storms, engine troubles and government regulation, so don’t haggle too much!)

» Selling starts about 6 a.m. If you want the catch of the day, plan to get up early! Last week, Paul Teall and his 10-year old son, August, were already sold out of their rock fish by 8 a.m.

» Get to know the seasons. Paul’s rock fish is the last you will see until May because the season closes in March and April.

» When you’re buying, get tips from the experts! Paul’s rock crabs look great!

“Most people prefer the females for their butter (fat) and eggs,” he said. “They get to be 1½ to 2 pounds. The males go up to three pounds.”

These crabs sell for $3 per pound.

» Try something new. Paul also had Kellet’s whelk for sale. The sea snails are very popular in the Asian community, and generally either are barbecued shell down, foot up, which allows them to boil in their own juices, or the meat can be pulled out of the shell, sliced into thin strips, then cooked in oil with various spices.

Veteran diver Ron Evon has been in the uni and urchin business for three decades. (Greg Gorga photo / Santa Barbara Maritime Museum)
Veteran diver Ron Evon has been in the uni and urchin business for three decades. (Greg Gorga photo / Santa Barbara Maritime Museum)

My Italian ancestors also enjoyed kellet’s, called squingilee, cooking them at a soft boil for 40 minutes and eating the meat, usually with a cold beer. Kellet’s are $2 a pound, and are an incidental catch in the crab traps.

» Get to know who sells what. When in season, Paul uses hook and line to catch rock fish, usually going out the to edges of the kelp beds, where the fish congregate in waters that range from 45 feet to 250 feet in depth.

He sells his fish for $5 per pound, except local halibut, for which he charges $7. On any given Saturday, you can find Paul selling rock fish, ocean whitefish, mackerel, sand dabs, halibut and bonita tuna — all from his boat tied up five feet away.

Another specialty in our Harbor is uni, the Japanese name for the edible part of sea urchins and a major product for local fishermen. The uni industry has grown significantly in the decades since catching wild abalone became illegal.

Uni diver Ron Evon has been in the business for 28 years. His uni, typically caught the day before, are kept fresh in a bed of water so that they stay alive. From 6 to 11 a.m., he’s at the Navy Pier, selling live uni for $5 each.

Divers employ similar techniques to capture uni as they did for abalone, using the same Radon boats that were developed here in Santa Barbara. In the past, according to Santa Barbara Harbormaster Mick Kronman, 90 percent of the uni catch was sent to Asian markets, but with the increase in sushi restaurants in the United States, that percentage has reversed.

Sam Shrout owns Santa Barbara Seafood, and he is at the Navy Pier with Troy Pack, selling rock crabs, spider crabs and kellet’s. The spider crabs resemble Alaskan king crab and are available year-round. Spider crabs tend to have more flavor than rock crab, but their hard shell makes them difficult to crack open.

Crab fishermen set traps on the ocean floor and have to go out and pull the traps and check for their catch every two to three days, and no more than four days. So they continuously must check weather conditions to ensure they can get out to the traps.

Although Sam and Troy didn’t have any lobster when I stopped by last week, you can call them at 805.705.5464 a few days before to check. Lobster season ends March 18 does not reopen until October.

— Greg Gorga is executive director at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum. He can be contacted at [email protected], or at 805.962.8404. The opinions expressed are his own.

Kellet’s whelk are often incidental catches in crab traps, but they are a delicious addition on your table. (Greg Gorga photo / Santa Barbara Maritime Museum)
Kellet’s whelk are often incidental catches in crab traps, but they are a delicious addition on your table. (Greg Gorga photo / Santa Barbara Maritime Museum)
Customers can handpick their rock crab catch. (Greg Gorga photo / Santa Barbara Maritime Museum)
Customers can handpick their rock crab catch. (Greg Gorga photo / Santa Barbara Maritime Museum)

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