Local seafood company gets grant to increase demand of overlooked fish

SAN DIEGO – San Diego seafood processing company Catalina Offshore Products received a six-figure grant Wednesday to grow the demand for underutilized species of fish such as opah.

Catalina Offshore’s opah project is one of 38 projects to receive a grant under the National Marine Fisheries Service’s 2018 Saltonstall-Kennedy Grant Program. Catalina Offshore received $139,700 to broaden the appeal of opah — a group of six related fish found in mild and tropical waters — so that all edible parts of the fish are used and develop more demand for species that U.S. Pacific Highly Migratory Species fisheries routinely cast aside.

Smalleye Pacific opah and bigeye Pacific opah are often found off the coasts of California and Mexico and can weigh up to 200 pounds, but a majority of the fish is usually thrown away. Catalina Offshore has identified seven types of meat on the opah with unique flavor and texture profiles that offer the possibility for more diverse culinary application.

“People tend to eat what they’re familiar with,” said Catalina Offshore fishmonger Tommy Gomes. “We’re trying to get them to look beyond the standard fillet. You wouldn’t harvest a pig just to make bacon. Fish should be approached the same way.”

Multiple local chefs and marine biologists will help Catalina Offshore develop practical and culinary applications for the opah as well as understand the fish better. Scientists at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla have collected samples of opah since 2009 to examine their basic biology and ecology. The project will culminate in an “Ocean to Table” event to showcase the results of Catalina Offshore’s data collection and recipe development for opah as well as other overlooked fish with similar market potential.

“We’re fortunate to have such passionate and esteemed individuals lending their expertise to our culinary engineering project,” said Catalina Offshore owner Dave Rudie. “This collaboration will allow us to build on our experience working with opah, and further develop market demand for undervalued and underutilized species. We hope our efforts will benefit our local fisheries, increase the viability of our working waterfronts, and illustrate the value of not only fishing sustainably, but eating sustainably.”