From 6am-11am every Saturday year round, a handful of fishermen can be found on the City Pier (opposite Brophy Bros. restaurant) selling crab, shrimp, rockfish, ling cod, black cod, halibut, urchin, abalone (sustainably farmed), and other catch of the day items - with unbeatable prices and unsurpassed freshness and quality.
The market, which is run by the nonprofit Commercial Fishermen of Santa Barbara, serves as the most direct-to-consumer outlet for the harbor's commercial fleet, which today includes more than 200 boats. Even though fishermen get a higher price than usual by selling direct - and yet the fresh fish is still cheaper to consumers than anywhere else, only a fraction of the local commercial fishermen have ever participated in the market. Most prefer to sell in bulk to bigger distributors.
Santa Barbara has had a long history as a fishing port, located in the middle of some of the richest fishing grounds in California due, in part, to the meeting of the warmer southern water and cooler northern water in Southern California. More than 500 species of fish live in or migrate through these waters. The ocean near Point Conception is a unique and rich habitat as the waters offshore serve as a point of convergence for species that inhabit the colder northern waters and those that live in the warmer southern waters. Hence, Point Conception and the Santa Barbara Channel serve as spawning grounds for dozens of species of commercial fish and shellfish year round. The Santa Barbara area waters are productive and both their wild-caught and farmed seafood are fresh and highly regulated for sustainability.
Tips on selecting seafood:
- Look for shiny skin; tightly adhering scales; bright, clear eyes; firm, taut flesh that springs back when pressed; and a moist, flat tail.
- Saltwater fish should smell briny; freshwater fish should smell like a clean pond.
- When buying white-fleshed fish, choose translucent-looking fillets with a pinkish tint
- Fresh vs. frozen vs. thawed ("previously frozen"): modern freezing techniques (look for "flash frozen") preserve high quality and allow wild caught fish to be served year round; "previously frozen" fish at the seafood counter may be less fresh and shouldn't be re-frozen at home; thaw your frozen fish in the refrigerator, not at room temperature.