EVEN WHEN THE SEA IS ROUGH, Commercial fishermen in Monterey Bay always find a way to bring fresh seafood ashore.
Early on a Friday morning in August, the sea is calm as the sun peeks over the hills and Joseph Lucido heads for the docks to try to catch some halibut. The full-time commercial fisherman departs from Pier 2 in Monterey, then cruises along the coast. Just over a mile from the sandy shores of Marina, Lucido stops to set up his lines and grab some bait for the day. “Fresh squid is best for halibut,” he says. He checks his fish finder and starts catching squid.
Lucido is a Monterey native who grew up around the wharf; his parents owned a restaurant, The Cove, serving breakfast and lunch. From an early age, he met the local fishermen and was invited to go out and learn the art of fishing. After a trip to Bristol Bay in Alaska with his grandfather, he was hooked. At 16, he bought his first boat, then worked on several charter boats from 16 to 30 years old; he eventually acquired a 21ft Robalo boat which he goes out solo. He catches crab, salmon, halibut, skipjack and lingcod during their respective seasons, with most of his fishing taking place between May and October. A few years ago, he worked with the port and the city to allow quayside sales.
The city and port began allowing dock sales in 2020 and for Lucido, it’s been a godsend. He posts on social media when the fish will be available and customers start lining up nearly two hours before he returns to shore.
“The port encouraged it and was very helpful in enabling fishermen to sell at the quay,” he says. “It brings the community to this side of the harbour.”
Selling fish at the dock isn’t Lucido’s only option; it also sells to Robbie’s Ocean Fresh Seafood Wholesaler at the end of Pier 2.
After two or three days of solid fishing, Lucido brings his fresh catch to the wharf at Wharf 2, just below the London Bridge Pub. A queue of customers is already waiting. King salmon was available last season in August at $10 a pound, whole fish only. The fish is extracted from coolers and Lucido weighs and cuts the fish according to customer requests. Julia Lucido, Joe’s wife, sits on the dock collecting payments and distributing receipts; careful records are kept for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and for tax purposes. Lucido’s daughter is also on hand to help. Lucia, 10, is in charge of distributing the cut fish.
There are an ever-increasing number of fishing regulations that can change from year to year. In 2022, the salmon season only lasted 45 days, compared to 57 days the previous year; harsh weather conditions left commercial fishermen with even fewer days available. But they took notice.
“I think most were happy with what they caught this year, although we lost a few days,” says Lucido.
Challenges aside — on the business, regulatory and weather side — the Monterey Bay fishing industry is thriving, says Melissa Mahoney, executive director of the Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust. “There are people who don’t believe that fish are sustainable and that our fisheries are in bad shape. That’s not true, our fisheries are strong,” Mahoney says.
In 2013, the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries conducted a three-year analysis of commercial fishing in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and reported that the average annual revenue from harvested seafood was $26 million for 34 different species.
The nonprofit trust works to promote the local fishing industry and help the community see the benefits of locally caught seafood. “We have the most sustainable, healthiest and most delicious seafood here,” says Mahoney.
The trust provides resources like a seasonality guide and tips on storing and preparing fish, and helps anglers retrieve lost gear. They also promote local fishermen’s pier sales through social media and email campaigns.
Lucido is one of many fishermen in Monterey Bay who make a living from the sea, and one of two whose story is told in this photo essay.
NEIL GUGLIEMO COMES FROM A LONG LINE OF FISHERMEN. His great-grandfather, grandfather, father and uncles were all fishermen. Gugliemo began his fishing career near Los Angeles in San Pedro, catching halibut, crab, swordfish and lobster. Now he is looking for sardines, mackerel and squid. “Monterey is a great place to fish,” he says.
Left in the evening on weeknights, the octogenarian – he insists on noting down half – goes out to cast his net and collect fish. “It’s getting harder and harder. The price of fuel, insurance, regulations and the price of fish affect how I survive,” he explains. “The price of sardines has not increased. Five years ago it was around $1,000 a tonne, today it’s around $1,017.
“Shipping costs have gone up so much,” adds Gugliemo. “Shipping fish overseas is becoming increasingly difficult; buyers don’t want to pay for shipping containers. Despite this assessment, a large proportion of sardines, squid and mackerel are sent to countries around the world.
On a misty October morning, Gugliemo’s boat, the Trionfo, has just returned from a night of fishing and Pier 2 hums with the sound of pumps as sardines are unloaded. Gugliemo watches from the upper deck, making sure all is well. Two large holding tanks in the center of the boat hold the night’s catch and are pumped to the dock where the fish are sorted and pumped into large red tanks filled with ice. The bins are loaded onto a semi-trailer truck to be transported to a processing facility.
After nearly 65 years of fishing, Gugliemo still enjoys being on the water. “I love it, you have your good days and your bad days. One day there’s tons of fish and the next day there’s nothing to fish in the bay.
With the growing awareness of the need to protect the environmental sustainability of fishing, Gugliemo believes that fishermen often get a bad rap. “We’re all doing our part to make sure we don’t overfish and can still make a living,” he says.
He has been outspoken about the industry’s environmental responsibilities and works annually with researchers from NOAA Fisheries and the Department of Fish and Wildlife to help assess the populations and health of the Monterey Bay squid fishery. He is also an active member of the California Wetfish Producers Association, which helps fund CDFW research on the squid population.
“Without fish, it’s over,” says Gugliemo.
He’s been fishing commercially for 65 years, reading the weather and conditions to get out when the fishing is best. It’s a demanding career, but one he fell in love with as a teenager – a passion he maintained until the mid-1980s.
Lucido, who is 42, represents a younger generation of anglers but has also found that it’s not for everyone.
“I see a lot of people trying to be commercial fishers – they buy a boat and go out multiple times. Within a few months or a year, they sell the boat,” he says. (His own little boat is unnamed.)
For it to work, you need a community, he adds: “You need to have a community of friends, a tight-knit group that helps each other.”
Despite a reputation for competition, adds Lucido, local anglers actually prefer to share. He phones other anglers to talk about the best spots and the number of fish. “You have to roll with the punches – it’s hard to do, and especially if you don’t have a good work force, it’s really hard to pull it off.”