The beer was cold and the music hot, but the best action at the 2017 Half Moon Bay Fish & Fleet Festival involved flashing filet knives, bickering gulls and sea-faring comedians cracking wise topside at the docks. And who doesn’t like a salmon raffle?
Roughly 200 commercial fishing vessels call Pillar Point Harbor home, according to the Half Moon Bay Chamber of Commerce. They boast an annual haul of more than 10 million pounds of seafood, enough to rank fifth among California ports in 2015, according to the National Ocean Economics Program. And you can buy salmon, rock fish, crab and more right off the boat. That’s fresh, folks.
The men and women who fish the local waters are anything but slackers. Up early and out late, they perform cold, wet and physically demanding work amid stomach-churning swells in a profession that ranks No. 2 among the world’s most dangerous, right behind lumberjacks. And it doesn’t always smell very nice. Consider that the next time you casually order up a plate of fish and chips at the microbrewery. Except for maybe the smelly part.
Organized by the Half Moon Bay Seafood Marketing Association, the annual fleet fest is all about toasting our sea-faring locals with a craft beer, a fresh fish taco and some reggae, rock or jazz. And maybe thrilling a local artisan by picking up a T-shirt or something new for the shelf at home.
What makes the fest special, however, is the proximity of the docks. Back in June, before the hustle and bustle of summer set in, we wrote about a quiet Friday evening at the harbor. There was nothing going on. It was amazing.
On Sunday, it was equally amazing to see the docks alive with fishermen turned mongers haggling with shoppers and placating gulls, all to the sound of festival music drifting on the breeze beneath sunny skies. And we weren’t the only lookie loos. A pair of sea lions lolled on one pier while a flock of pelicans perched expectantly along the jetty rip-rap. Salmon was the catch du jour.
Shopper: What sizes do you have?
Fisherman: I’ve got these baby ones here or I can give you a deal on a 20-pounder.
We particularly enjoyed watching a crew member from the Riptide prepping a trio of salmon for a dockside customer. Filet knife flashing, he cleaned, iced and wrapped each fish in a series of quick motions, flipping each set of guts into the harbor to the delight of the gulls bobbing aft. Each fish-gut scrum lasted only a few seconds before the pink mess would sink below the waterline. We saw no diving. Must have been slacker gulls.
Barry Day, aka Kiwi Barry, was selling his salmon from the deck of the Rosella. The fish looked great, but his wit, delivered in a thick New Zealand accent, was killer.
Shopper: “When did you catch these Salmon?”
Kiwi Barry: “Last year. The ice bill is killing me.”
Shopper: “Where are you from?”
Kiwi Barry: “I’m up from Oklahoma.”
Where’s a rim shot when you need one?
Don’t like fish? That’s OK. The Oxacan, Beyond the Border and Moonraker food trucks also offered land-lubber fare. And the crowd washed it all down with local brews from the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company and Hop DogmaHop Dogma while enjoying reggae and rock courtesy of the Pacific Roots, Sashamon and Coast Tribe, and the funk, jazz and soul sounds of Flowing Water North.
There was face-painting and cupcakes for the kids. Ceramics, wall hangings and sculpture for the home. Kayaks and paddle boards for rent. We even spotted a mermaid in the crowd.
It was fun and the crowd felt local, unlike on holiday weekends when Coastsiders hunker down and stay off the highway and away from public places. Sunshine and highs in the 70s on our usually cool and cloudy coastline topped it off. Amazing, indeed.
But really, who did win the salmon raffle?