Peter Halmay, when I asked how old he was, said, “Seventy-seven going kicking and screaming into the 21st century.” He’s a first-generation fisherman who started fishing in the 60s. Peter explained that California fishermen are mostly first-generation fishermen that started in the 60s and 70s, and they are now getting into the third-generation in 2019. Much different than here in Maine where we have many 6th and 7th and even 10th generation fishermen.
Peter’s son, Luke Halmay, does a lot of the fishing now, and Peter says fishing with his son gives him a completely different perspective. “I’m thinking about 50-years from now. Because I don’t want just enough for me. If he doesn’t have a good fishery then I let him into something that I don’t think he should do.” Peter runs Tuna Harbor Dockside Market and he is an advocate for the working waterfront and healthy food systems. He likes to think of sustainability beyond just seafood, like the sustainability of the fishing community, “Thinking of it as a family; how is the family and community going to benefit?” Dockside Market gives Peter an opportunity to talk to many consumers and familiarize them with fishing and fishermen, and show them all the different kinds of fish coming in. He says, “People are surprised because they don’t think San Diego has fish anymore.” That’s a common theme on the East Coast, too.
A customer of Peter’s once told him, “The fish last week is the freshest and best fish I’ve ever tasted but I don’t think my palate is good enough to know that, but my brain told me it was.” A bit confused, Peter asked him to explain more, “My brain told me it was the story you told me that made the fish taste better.”
“You eat with your eyes first,” is an adage amongst chefs and a good reason for intentional plating, but maybe we should also be thinking more about hearing and story-telling, especially because fillets of fish are not always pretty; filleting can get sloppy, fish can take on different tones of whites, greys, and pink, and when I get fish it’s usually in a Ziploc bag or a bucket, so it’s not like it’s got a beautiful built-in presentation like carrots that still have their tops. Perhaps education about seafood should start with this: It’s not going to look like the pictures in the magazines when you buy it, and it’s not going to look perfect when you cook it either. It’s wabi-sabi, which is a Japanese expression and it basically means, beauty in imperfection.
Peter and I also talked about what makes a working waterfront so special; the working waterfront, of course, being the heart of a fishing community. Even if you’ve gone to watch a boat unload 50-times, it’s still exciting to go back and watch them do it again. We concluded that the novelty doesn’t run out because the scenery (and smells and sounds) are always changing. I described the seagulls that flock around the herring boats in Portland and he described the sea lions that people love to watch swim up to the boats while they are unloading in San Diego. Peter and I talked about some of the threats to the working waterfront on both coasts and he said, “Don’t be satisfied with the dock you have now. And, surely the future will bring a food shortage. If you do it right, you won’t run out of fish.” He also went on to add, “You can’t unload your goddamn boat two-miles inland,” which is, of course, true.
Like many conversations and interviews, I ended by asking what his favorite way is to prepare seafood, and he said, “I hand it to my wife and sit down and watch football and drink beer till it’s ready. Because I’m a lazy bastard… some people are much better at things than I am. If I can catch it and bring it in and someone else can cook it, then we’re all happy.”