SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The new rockfish season in Santa Barbara has anglers filling boats and anxious to get a catch for fun or for dinner.
Two boats actively in motion are the Stardust and the Coral Sea based at Sea Landing in the Santa Barbara Harbor. They head out daily to the Channel Islands at 7 a.m. and return around 5 p.m. Wednesday is a half-day trip.
By the end of the day, it's a large return of fish for their efforts. Some are counting on it for their meals in the days ahead, especially during these financially tough times.
"They come out specifically to put food on their tables," said Stardust and Coral Sea Sportfishing Owner Jaime Diamon. "The amount they catch with us, you could not buy it at the market for the same cost of a ticket price."
"Even pre-COVID we had fishermen like this and we have definitely seen an increase in the last year," said Diamond.
When the pandemic hit, Diamond spoke to the Santa Barbara County Health Department and the Santa Barbara County Supervisors to create acceptable guidelines to keep the business afloat. They were ahead of other coastal counties with the wording and approvals.
Diamond says those on board have to stay in the group they arrived in. There is only a limited amount of moving around, for example, to use the restroom or purchase food and drink on board.
"Masks are mandatory at all times unless you are eating or drinking," said Diamond.
Each boat has reduced capacity to comply with COVID-19 spacing and rules, said Jaime Diamond, who owns the boats with her husband Jason.
For these two boats, a total of 55 reservations are allowed: 25 on the Coral Sea and 30 on the Stardust.
After a setback in March 2020, along with nearly every other business, they were on the waters again by May with passengers ready to catch fish. "We ran all the way to the end of our season, December 31," she said.
The boats do not run in January and February.
"We had people coming out specifically to put food on their tables," said Diamond.
As the bags of fish were unloaded, it was a variety of catches.
Each person on board had a number on their bag, and the filets were taken care of by the crew on the way back from the islands.
"A rockfish is the most universal fish there is," said Diamond. "It's great for Ceviche, fish tacos around town, it's the number one fish for fish tacos. It's really great seared with citrus and butter and herbs."
The new season opens up fishing from Point Conception to the Mexican border.
"Fishing up here is great," said Kyle Kodalen who drove up from Rancho Cucamonga. "You can't find it down in the Los Angeles area. The Channel Islands has some of the greatest rockfishing in the world. You get some big fish up here."
Rafael Price drove in from Long Beach. He says he was "looking for a great crew, good vibes get out on the water, have a good time, catch a little fish." Price was hoping to make some ceviche and grilled dinners with his catch.
Mark Reznikoff was with his kids including 11-year old Sebastian who had a very large sheepshead fish. "First fish of the day, his first fish. On the way here he said 'I'm going to catch a sheepshead.' He's never caught one. He's caught a lot of other fish and he got this beautiful one. Look at that thing."
Diamond is quick to encourage different uses for the catch. "Fish tacos around town, it's the number one fish for fish tacos. It's really great seared with citrus and butter and herbs."
On board John Shields, a crew member, laid out a final bag full of fresh fish after taking care of all the passengers. He identified each fish prior to carving them into filets. "California scorpion fish, vermillion rockfish, blue rockfish, copper rockfish, sheepshead, tree fish, and ocean white fish," he said.
"We're known for not just the quantity of fish but a nice size rock fish and you are going to get meals for weeks out of it," said Diamond.
For more information go to : California Department of Fish and Wildlife