Luke Halmay and his wares.
Luke Halmay started fishing with his father Peter when he was still a kid. “He’d take us to San Clemente Island, Catalina. Now, he won’t even go to the beach.” Forty-odd years of commercial fishing will do that to a man. These days, when Luke heads out to dive for sea urchins with his father, he does it as a fellow professional. As with many of the fishing operations that make up the Tuna Harbor Dockside Market on Saturday mornings by Seaport Village — David and Nick Haworth, the Majors, Luigi San Filippo and Luigi San Filippo Jr., Zachary Roach and Zack Roach Jr., and Kelly and Sai Fukushima — the son followed Dad to the sea.
Customers enjoy on-the-spot sea urchin at the Saturday morning Dockside Market.
“College wasn’t really my thing,” explains Luke. “It was never-ending, not like a job where you work 9 to 5. You had homework, you had to study, it just kept going.” It turns out that “it’s the same thing with fishing — you have to look at the weather, you have to figure out who you’re going to sell to” — but he didn’t know that at the time. What he knew was he was going nuts at school. “I went to my dad and said, ‘I want to start fishing with you,’ and he said, ‘I’ve got to ask you one question: do you have a high tolerance for misery? Sometimes, it’s going to be fun, but the normal aspect is, it’s miserable day in and day out.’ I said, ‘That’s fine; I’m miserable now.’”
879 W. Harbor Drive, San Diego
Luke started working on Pete’s boat at 19; after two years, he was eligible to apply for the industry’s permit lottery. Seven years of tending line later, he landed one. “Today, it’s 15 to 1; every time 15 guys go out, one person can go in. They’re trying to minimize the people with permits.” That would seem to indicate an industry in decline, and yet, the younger generation thinks it sees a future in San Diego fishing.
“There are two different types of fishermen,” says Luke. “The ones who fill their boat and sell to a wholesaler, and the ones who sell directly and get as much as they need for their customers. Only the latter, he thinks, remains viable. “The wholesalers are getting imported fish, and you can’t make a living.” Wholesale exports are also risky: “Right now, the China market has been cut off for lobster because of the virus, so people who haven’t built their own domestic market are screwed. But I have my own restaurants that I sell to: Ironside, Juniper, Born and Raised…” The Dockside Market helped in that department. “One weekend, 15 chefs came down and started buying from everybody. And my dad is so well known, they contact him for everything.”
That’s a blessing. “If it wasn’t for him, I’d probably be working at Costco right now,” grants Luke. But it’s also a trial. “No one knows who I am. ‘Oh, you’re Pete’s son? Cool.’” Right on cue, a customer stops by and asks for Pete. Luke smiles at me. “See?”