Tommy, aka Tommy the Fishmonger®, is the progeny of a long line of professional tuna fishermen. He's a 4th generation commercial fisherman with his roots in San Diego, California where his Portuguese family settled in 1892. What many may not know is that San Diego was once the "Tuna Capital of the World". During its heyday in the 1960's and 1970's, Tommy says San Diego had the largest tuna fishing fleet in the world, feeding 90% of the world with the tuna coming into the area. All of the major canneries were based in San Diego and the tuna industry was one of the largest employers in the city. After that peak, the commercial fishing industry in San Diego began to decline. Rules and environmental concerns turned the commercial fishing industry inside out. Tommy talks about a film produced on a foreign fishing vessel that showed marine mammals, like dolphins, getting caught in tuna nets and dying. That sent shock waves through the industry, he says, and images like that quickly gave commercial fishing a bad reputation. Since then, government regulation of the fishing industry has made it much more difficult for fisherman to earn a living on the water. In many cases, they were, and still are, regulated right out of business. It's not an issue unique to San Diego though, Tommy says, noting that regulations are stifling the fishing industry in the gulf states, on the east coast and clear up to Alaska, too. Unfortunately, those regulations that were aimed at protecting the ocean and all its inhabitants opened the door for more and more imports of seafood to come into the United States, imports of seafood that in many cases are unreported, unregulated and illegally harvested.
Although the commercial fishing industry is but a fraction of what it used to be in San Diego, people like Tommy are trying to hang on to what's left of it, educate people, start a movement and revive it. His new show "The Fishmonger" aids in that goal by examining the challenges faced by San Diego's commercial fishermen and their relationships with local chefs, the community and the world market. It brings the issue of fresh food to the forefront. We've lost touch with our food in general, Tommy says. Years ago we used to eat sardines, anchovies, mackerel, and things like that. We just aren't doing that anymore, he says. Instead, people have become conditioned and want that staple salmon, swordfish, tuna, and seabass. Those are great, but they are just four fish in a whole ocean of seafood out there available that we aren't eating. Getting back to a place where we are eating healthy, fresh food is important. Because of convenience driven food offerings, many people have forgotten or don't know how to handle and cook a whole fish, among other proteins. Everybody wants a standard four ounce piece of fish with the bloodline out, skin off, no bones and they don't want it to taste like fish, Tommy says. Offering another example, in southern California everyone wants fish tacos, he says, so they chop up the big pieces of meat, but end up throwing the bulk of the fish out and wasting it. Part of reviving the commercial fishing industry is getting the attention of people and teaching them about fish - how to handle it, how to cut it, how to cook it. It's okay to play with your food, and Tommy encourages it. Cook your fish, bake it, broil it, fry it, barbecue it - don't just fillet it out and then throw the rest away.
In addition to his new show "The Fishmonger", Tommy is also opening his own seafood market this year called TunaVille Market and Grocers, a wholesaler and direct-to-consumer marketplace located right on the water at Driscoll's Wharf. Tommy says the market will have local seafood, ready to cook meals and even fresh salads and sandwiches. He also highlights his plans to expand and open a seafood, education, and nutritional center that will teach people how to cook fish again. They'll also host fundraisers for nonprofits benefiting kids throughout the city called Collaboration Kitchen. It's all in the name of educating people on how great seafood is and supporting San Diego's fishing fleet.
Be sure to tune in to the premiere of "The Fishmonger" on Outdoor Channel, Monday, March 1st at 7:00 p.m. ET.