Bill Blue has fished for 40 years out of Morro Bay, and his career is far from over.
The 58-year-old Morro Bay resident and owner of the Brita Michelle docks along the Embarcadero near Beach Street and makes his living catching Dungeness crab and black cod.
“I love being out on the water,” Blue said. “We get the view every day that people love when they’re just sitting and watching the ocean from the shore. We see dolphins, whales, and I’ve even seen great white sharks foraging on sea lions.”
Though the local fishing industry — which Blue estimates consists of about 50 commercial fishermen — has declined in recent years, Blue has experienced some of his most profitable years ever of late, fishing with the help of his 27-year-old son, Scott.
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Their crab fetches top dollar in China, where customers want to see a live crustacean before it’s cooked. The Blues keep their catch breathing in water-filled containers on the boat before the crabs are trucked off at the shore. Then, during flights from Los Angeles or San Francisco to China, the crabs are kept in moist Styrofoam gel packs at cool temperatures to keep them alive.
Nearly all of their catch in the past year went to China.
“It’s good for business, but sad in some ways because you don’t see as many local restaurants buying crab because of the high price,” Bill Blue said. “That means local people can’t go and get them as easily.”
Fishing in local waters, as well as up the coast near San Francisco, Blue has seen it all at sea.
As a young fisherman, he was rescued by another boat before a vessel he was fishing off of sank.
Blue has withstood waves as tall as buildings and stayed up in the black of night to make sure massive shipping vessels didn’t crush his 45-footer.
Radio and radar devices that monitor ship traffic aren’t foolproof, but they help prevent collisions that would be disastrous for a small family fishing boat.
Blue loves the independence of being his own boss, despite the challenges of modern fishing.
“I love the freedom of making decisions,” Blue said. “If a mistake happens, I know I made the wrong decision. If we do well, somebody else doesn’t take the credit.”
Current challenges include higher costs for permits, fuel and maintenance; ocean closures; and fish size restrictions. Fuel cost 28 cents per gallon when Blue started at age 18, and now it’s $5 per gallon, he said.
However, Morro Bay still provides about 170 to 194 total jobs on the water, at offloading facilities and in processing plants, according to Lisa Wise Consulting, which publishes an annual report on the local fishing industry.
Blue said he loves his profession and plans to fish commercially for at least another 10 years. His son also has no plans of choosing a different line of work.
“Fishing will never be the same as what it used to be,” Blue said. “I just hope we can regain some of the access that has been taken away.”