Meet at the market: a tough job made tougher

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Each week we meet up with Katie Hershfelt of Cultivate Events as she chats with farmers, chefs and shoppers at the Santa Barbara Farmers’ Market.

Many are wondering what effects the Refugio oil spill may have on local seafood. It’s already led to a fishing ban, stretching 23 miles along the coast and about 7 miles out. Last week we spoke to a local Santa Barbara chef concerned about feeding his customers seafood from nearby waters. Now we get a differing perspective.

This week’s guest? Stephanie Mutz, a commercial fisherman and sea urchin diver who sells directly to Santa Barbara restaurants and customers. The fishing ban has displaced her and her peers, and even spurred a lawsuit.

Before the spill, Stephanie was fishing predominantly within the now-banned area. She says it’s a good area, this time of year, to hide from the elements.

Now, she’s moved about 30 miles outside of the area, offshore of Santa Rosa and San Miguel islands. This means greater swells and wind, a less consistent catch and more fishermen in a condensed area. “It’s a difficult job becoming a bit more difficult, but not impossible,” she says.

CaptureDespite oiled wildlife and tar balls showing up on Ventura and L.A. beaches, Stephanie still calls the area of the fishing ban “excessively large,” comparing the oil spill to the size of a ping pong ball and the closure the size of a beach ball. She thinks it will take months to reopen.

“It doesn’t take any toxicity tests to close this area, but it takes a whole lot of bureaucratic testing and politics to open it back up again,” she says.

Fishing ban or not, her standards of quality remain.

“If it’s compromised in any way, I’m not going to pick it,” she says reassuringly. “I do that every day, not just during an oil spill.”

Stephanie shows off her urchin, caught off San Miguel Island. Photo: Kathryn Barnes
Stephanie shows off her urchin, caught off San Miguel Island. Photo: Kathryn Barnes

For those local-loving but doubtful patrons, Stephanie offers these tips:

  • Ask questions. “We want you to be comfortable with your purchases and the quality.”
  • Know the seasons. “You can’t get California Spiny Lobster right now. If someone has local fresh lobster on the menu, be a little wary of that.”
  • Visit the Santa Barbara Fisherman’s Market. “It’s a good opportunity to know your fisherman.”

    Edible Santa Barbara always has a page on seasonal produce and seafood. (click to enlarge)

To check out all our past farmers’ market guests, click here.