This story was originally published on Aug. 25, 2015. It was updated on April 27, 2017.
The Bay Area is surrounded by water and, at times, that can make it easy to find great local seafood. But often it’s not so simple. After years of fishing with little regard for sustainable practices or the long-term health of the ocean, people have become more focused recently on eating fish that are both good for them and caught in a manner that is good for the ecosystem. The dominant standard in seafood sustainability has become the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, which outlines industry standards and good practices. But there are a number of other definitions of sustainability, and different kinds of fishing techniques — many of which can be difficult to understand the details of unless you grew up on a boat. In addition, it’s common for people to look for local fish freshly caught, though in the winter (or depending on the weather) it can be harder to find local seafood. On top of that, most of us don’t want to spend a fortune either.
Oh, and to make things even more complicated, there’s growing concern about fish being mislabeled or sold under the wrong name. And FDA rules allow multiple species of fish to be sold under a single name, which can make everything even more confusing for the consumer. It’s no wonder community-supported fisheries, like Real Good Fish, where you sign up for a subscription service and simply have fresh, local fish delivered to door are becoming more popular.
But if you’d like to pick your fish yourself, there’s still more than a few options. While there used to be more fishermen selling their wares directly on the docks, now there are just a few places left where you can buy straight off the boat. If you’re looking for that experience, try Pillar Point Harbor down in Half Moon Bay or Moss Landing, where Phil’s Fish Market is the popular go-to. Here in the Bay Area, there are a number of fish markets, big and small. Try these eight, and let us know in the comments if we missed your favorite.
H&H stands for Heidi and Hans, the couple that runs H&H Fresh Fish Co. out of Santa Cruz. All the fish that Hans doesn’t catch himself, he buys on the dock in Santa Cruz from about 100 small-scale fishermen, who are primarily using hook and line or rod methods. That catch is then cut into fillets and sold either wholesale or at farmers markets around the Bay Area. While many of the market spots are in the South Bay or closer to Santa Cruz, H&H also sells at a half-dozen markets in San Francisco and the East Bay. You can also sign up for their CSA-style subscription service that delivers fish once or twice every week. H&H’s plan is also to eventually open a retail store by the docks in Santa Cruz. The fish is primarily local, though the buying does extend to Hawaii, Alaska, and even Baja California in the winter months — as long as H&H can verify how it’s being caught, where, and when. The duo will also cater an oyster bar for events. Right now, they’re mostly selling halibut, salmon, snapper, and sea bass, with a salmon fillet going for about $24.99/pound.
H&H Fresh Fish Co.
H&H sells at farmers markets throughout the Bay Area, as well as through a weekly delivery program and a soon-to-open retail store in Santa Cruz; check their market schedule for complete information
Ph: (831) 462-3474
Hours: Check the market schedule for all locations and times
Facebook: H&H Fresh Fish Co.
Hudson Fishing Co. is run by Yvette and Mike Hudson, who do most of the fishing themselves in between Monterey and Bodega Bay. The duo specialize in Wild King Salmon, California Halibut, Albacore Tuna, and Dungeness Crabs. They also have some prawns available. Everything they catch is either using a hook and line, or traps — not nets. It’s all sold at four weekly farmers markets: two in Berkeley, one in El Cerrito, and one in Kensington. Check their market locations page for more details. They rarely sell whole fish available at the markets, because everything is cut and filleted before sold. Fillets are around $22.95/pound, and sell out quickly. The fish from Hudson are known for freshness and taste. And the two owners are also highly involved in salmon fishing associations and advocating for seafood environmental reform.
Hudson Fish Co.
Hudson sells at farmers markets in Berkeley, El Cerrito, and Kensington; check their location page for directions
Ph: (510) 528-8686
Hours: Check the market schedule for all locations and times
Run by Joey Pucci (J.P.), J.P. Seafood is a small operation that sits inside Dan’s Produce near the main commercial stretch in Alameda. Pucci, himself, buys almost all the day’s fish down at the docks in San Francisco and then slices it up and puts it on ice to sell. The store is very conscientious about quality control and making sure everything stays at just the right temperature. Because of the focus on freshness, there is rarely very much quantity in the store — just enough for the day. That means it can be a good idea just to ask what’s best in stock, though you can also call ahead to place bigger orders. It’s not cheap, but it’s not too expensive either. Wild King Salmon, which has been up and down lately, is about $23/pound for fillets and $15/pound for steaks.
The Monterey Fish Market was started in 1978 by Paul Johnson, a chef at a high-end restaurant in Berkeley. He started out buying directly from lots of small hook and line fishermen. Today, the market operates as a wholesaler out of San Francisco and as a retail store in North Berkeley — not connected to the Monterey Market grocery store down the street. Monterey Fish Market still buys directly from fishermen, some of whom even have keys to the store and leave their fresh catches in the fridges early in the morning. The store follows most of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guidelines, but has also developed its own standards. For example, Atlantic Cod is typically considered unsustainable because of how it’s traditionally caught, but the fishermen Monterey Fish Market deals with are small hook and line boats out of Cape Cod. The company has extensive information about its sustainability practices and the different kinds of fishing techniques used. In fact, it designates how the fish was caught on the labels in the store — Coho Salmon steaks are about $8.99/pound or $10.99/pound, depending on if you want them caught with long lines or trolling. This fish isn’t super cheap, but it is fresh and high-quality. Among its many clients, the wholesale arm of the fish market actually sells to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s restaurant.
Since 1963, The Tokyo Fish Market in Berkeley has been serving up Asian grocery items with a focus on fresh fish. In 2005, the store expanded to its current 5,000-square-foot building, with the original shop becoming a gift store. The emphasis is still on the fish, though, which comes from around the world through about ten different distributors. Fish manager, Lee Nakamura, said that he depends on the fishermen, whom he knows, to tell him where the fish is coming from, how it’s being caught, and if it’s good quality. While he doesn’t strictly follow Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch standards — for example, he has no problem with farmed fish as long as it’s done well — he does try to ensure that the fish is sustainable and fresh. Along with all the standard fish varieties, the market also has some slightly more exotic seafood and a wide range of shellfish. The fish is reasonably priced, with live Dungeness crab going for about $10.95/pound and salmon ranging from around $9.99 to $13.95/pound, depending on if you want it wild or farmed, local or shipped from Scotland.
There are a lot of small, family-run fish markets throughout San Francisco. What separates Sun Fat Seafood is its variety of cheap, fresh seafood. Nondescript on the outside, Sun Fat’s has all kinds of seafood on the inside. It’s best known for its affordable oysters, clams, and scallops. Pick a live lobster for just $12.99/pound. Wild Coho Salmon is about $9.99/pound. The knowledgable staff will cut the heads off the whole fish and de-scale them for you, or you can buy already prepared fillets. Despite the small size of the store, the variety is endless. You can even buy frog legs or baby octopus. If you want hand-picked, locally-sourced, all-sustainable seafood, then this isn’t necessarily the place for you. But it is as fresh as fish comes and isn’t going to break the bank.
Right in the heart of Fisherman’s Wharf, it’s easy to dismiss Alioto-Lazio Fish Company as a tourist trap. But it’s a long-standing fishseller, and one of the last local family-owned fish markets in the area. While they’re best known for their live crabs — which you can pick out of the tank (just as long as you don’t stick your hand in the water) — they also sell local seafood, shrimp, scallops, and lobster tails. You can either come into the store — if you can find parking — or have it shipped overnight to your house. The prices aren’t terrible, with Wild King Salmon fillets running around $18.00/pound. They also sell a variety of knick-knacks, condiments, and odds-and-ends. And try one of their famous crab shots for $1.50.
Fisherman’s Wharf, obviously, originally got its name from the fishermen who sold their wares on the piers. There aren’t as many sellers left, but on Pier 45 there are a number of wholesale seafood distributors and ABS Seafood is one of the best among them. In fact, ABS is so prolific that it even sells to one of the other spots on our list, the Tokyo Fish Market. While it is primarily a wholesaler and distributor, with no retail location, you can still call in orders directly and pick them up from the warehouse. Because it’s such a large distributor, ABS carries nearly every kind of seafood or fish you could possibly want. Though it’s not all local or wild, ABS did start taking steps a few years ago to eliminate some of the fish known for being unsustainable from its inventory. If you need seafood in bulk, just call ABS.