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Fishermen put a face on fish

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Central Coast fishermen have launched a new marketing plan aimed at saving an endangered species of sorts: the local fishing community.

Their new campaign, called The Faces of California Fishing, emphasizes the stories of the fishermen who catch the local crab, albacore, salmon, and rockfish that end up on local dinner tables.

Under California's stringent fishing regulations--including newly enacted no-fishing marine reserve zones off the Central Coast--local seafood harvesting is sustainable, the fishermen say. They believe the real threat is the loss of the fishermen and the local fishing community.

"It's all about the fishermen," said project consultant Kathleen Goldstein of Greenfish Communications as she enjoyed a plate of locally caught seafood during the Oct. 3 kick-off celebration at Tognazzini's Dockside Too on the Morro Bay Embarcadero.

"People are starting to look at getting their food locally. We want consumers to have more information about where their seafood comes from," Goldstein added.

A similar marketing initiative in Alaska has been "highly successful," she said, adding that the Central Coast is the only other place in the United States where the fishing community is working to market itself along with its catch.

"It's been a real community effort to share the recipes and the stories of local fishermen," she said.

A series of posters decorated the kick-off event, featuring photos and stories of various local fishermen. Brothers John and Jeff French, one poster states, grew up in Morro Bay and "learned how to fish and build lobster traps from their dad Al.

They also learned a deep respect for the resources they rely on."

The brothers, on their boats Nadine and Langosta II, fish locally for rock crab, Dungeness crab, albacore, and salmon.

Three generations of the French family--and around two dozen other fishermen of various generations--gathered at the celebration to enjoy a steaming buffet of locally harvested seafood. The teenagers expressed their hope that they will be able to enjoy future fishing careers of their own.

"This initiative is about showing who we are," explained Lori French, the director of The Faces of California Fishing.

"We are not Mr. Gorton's. We are local families," she added.

Many Californians believe that local seafood is caught by big industry and don't realize that 95 percent of the California fishing fleet is small, family-owned boats, French noted.

"There's a real need for awareness. Most people aren't aware of where their seafood comes from, how it is regulated for health and environmental standards, and who actually caught it," she added.

Choosing locally harvested seafood--rather than foreign fish caught in unregulated waters--is one way that consumers can help take care of our oceans, noted second-generation Morro Bay fisherman David Kubiak.

"Money spent on local fish is then turned around and spent back in the community," Goldstein said.

The campaign's new website, thefacesofcaliforniafishing.com, includes photos and stories of local fishermen, a variety of seafood recipes, seafood buying tips, and sources of local seafood. It directs consumers to Olde Port and Pierside fish markets on Harford Pier in Avila, Tognazzini's and Giovanni's fish markets on the Embarcadero in Morro Bay, and New Frontiers market on Foothill Boulevard in San Luis Obispo.

The "common thread" that binds local fishermen is their spirit of independence, the website states.

"Each and every one of them is fiercely independent and dances to their own tune. California fishing communities are struggling to remain just that, fishing communities," it notes.

One former fisherman, longtime commercial abalone diver Steve Rebuck, sees a bleak future if local consumers don't start supporting the local fishing community: "It amounts to cultural genocide, what's happening to the fishermen. It's a real culture, and it's going to be lost if we're not careful. These people have unique skills, knowledge, and equipment that should be preserved if we want to keep eating local seafood."

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