Coronavirus upends San Francisco's fishing industry

Fisherman's Wharf looks like an unused movie set, a shadow of its pre-pandemic self. Most businesses are closed.

One of the few signs of life is a wholesaler who has quickly adapted to the new challenges the fishing industry faces with a huge loss of sales.  

Tucked towards the back of Pier 45, Joe Conte, owner of Water 2 Table, found a new way to keep his doors open.

He showed a KTVU crew halibut and black cod, fresh catch from local fishermen. Conte normally sells solely to Bay Area restaurants. But with the shelter-in-place order, they closed and the market was suddenly gone overnight.

"I'm pretty scared that we lost all our restaurant business," said Conte, "We immediately pivoted to home deliveries we reached out to our email contacts."

He started building a new clientele: the retail customer. First, it was a dozen orders.

"The next day after that we had forty and then, it turned into 80. The day after that, the next day we came in and we had 110," said Conte. 

"Seafood is just not moving right now, not in the volume that we're sued to. Not in the volume that it takes to keep the industry alive," said Noah Oppenheim, executive director of Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.  

He said 80% of the seafood caught in the U.S. goes to restaurants.

Now, there is a new strategy: selling online.

"Cheaper price for the consumers and it means we can move volume right now," said Oppenheim.  

But sport fishing is worse off, dead in the water because of social distancing.

"What I'd love to see is 20 to 25 people on my boat, all having a good time fishing and we cannot do that because we're mixing people from different houses," said Tom Mattusch, captain of the Huli Cat, a charter boat berthed at Pillar Point.

As for Conte, he said selling direct to consumers has brought back 60% of his business.

He's grateful.

"As far as something recession proof or even pandemic proof, we've got that access to that protein that's right off our coast," said Conte.

The wholesaler and the charter boat captain have their eyes on the opening of the salmon season at the beginning of May, hoping that it won't be delayed

They're optimistic that the fishing industry will bounce back when the pandemic is over.