At 7:30 a.m., the plastic tub is full, stacked with several dozen lobsters. By the end of the day, all will be gone — fresh spiny lobsters captured off the Santa Barbara coast, straight into people’s homes.
Like the Santa Barbara Farmers Market or the Cabrillo Boulevard Arts & Crafts Show, the Saturday Fishermen’s Market at the Santa Barbara Harbor is one of the city’s unique jewels, even if it is less well known.
It’s a spot where people can buy fresh fish caught by commercial fishermen. There’s no middle distributor. It doesn’t come from Maine. It’s fresh and local.
Right now, from October to March 16, it’s the annual lobster season, during which people can buy freshly caught spiny lobster.
Joe and Melissa Garrigan have been selling lobster every Saturday morning for the past 11 years.
“It’s really healthy,” Joe Garrigan said. “It’s really well-managed. There are a lot of lobsters out there. It’s a totally sustainable resource.”
Garrigan pulls 150 to 200 lobsters a day. The ones he sold on Saturday were trapped on Thursday.
Santa Barbara typically holds a Harbor Festival, but it was canceled this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The event is typically a big fundraiser for the Commercial Fishermen of Santa Barbara. Instead, the Waterfront Department held a Spiny Lobster Festival. California spiny lobsters are prized worldwide because of their sweeter tail meat compared with Maine lobster, according to a news release. Maine lobsters have the more commonly seen claws.
Whatever Garrigan doesn’t sell, he said he will offer to his regular wholesale customers. A few lobsters might go to China if they don’t sell locally.
The Fishermen’s Market includes more than lobsters. There are abalone, fresh fish and urchins. A steady stream of people looked at the urchins, snapped in half, leaving the “caviar” inside to scoop out.
In addition to the high-quality taste, Joe Garrigan said buying the local lobsters is far more sustainable than eating a lobster from China.
“When you are buying stuff from overseas, the carbon footprint is huge,” Garrigan said. “It’s been shipped all over the world, rather than me bringing it in from a mile off the beach. When people are concerned about the environment, they should be concerned about buying local seafood.”
He said California and the nation have strong regulations for sustainable fishing, unlike some other parts of the world. Among those regulations are ones put into place a few years ago, to limit the number of traps that fishermen can put out to 300. It helped the smaller fisheries and blocked the large companies from taking all of the lobsters.
Melissa Garrigan noted that in California there are only about 150 lobster fishing permits issued, and only about 120 are used. In Maine, about 4,000 lobster fishing permits are issued. Santa Barbara has about 20 lobster fishermen. The Garrigans are the only ones who sell on Saturday mornings directly to the consumer.
Steve Mahan, Melissa Garrigan’s father, spends the day grabbing the lobsters from the tub, weighing them and placing them in a plastic bag to take home. He enjoys the job and interacting with people.
“I show all the kids the lobsters,” Mahan said. “They all love them. I let them pet them once in awhile. It’s fun.”
It’s also his job to keep the lobsters in the pool. Sometimes if the tub is full, they will try to escape.
“Kind of like if you are in prison, you want to climb over the wall,” Mahan said.
Joe Garrigan said he grew up with a fishing pole in his hand, and when he discovered that you could make a living by fishing, he decided that was the industry for him. Melissa Garrigan used to be a TV anchor, but she left that industry when she met her husband, the fishing life being far more enthralling that the news business.
One of the market’s regulars is Susan Petrovich. She said she’s been coming to the market for “100 years.”
She buys lobsters, boils them to kill them, cuts them in half, and then puts them under the broiler with some butter and lemon juice, and “they are perfect.”
“It’s nice and fresh and healthy,” she said. “I believe in buying local. We have the best lobsters in the world.”
— Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.