Off the Record Podcast, Eps 10 – Tommy the Fishmonger

Scott & Michelle talk the state of commercial fishing with Tommy “The Fishmonger” Gomes on eps 10 of Off the Record podcast. He’s funny & full of passion and knowledge of the fishing industry. You will come away knowledgeable about how to buy fish from your local market – and perhaps adventurous to try new kinds of fish.

Tommy explains what exactly is a Fishmonger, how he supports the American fisherman and our fishing industry, and how the pandemic has affected the industry. It has changed attitudes on local fish, prices and behaviors that will forever affect the fishing industry, like making the docks in San Diego a new destination for families. 

And Michelle tries to get Tommy to visit the Midwest for a Fish Fry…keeping trying Michelle…

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Off The Record Podcast – Episode 10 – Transcript

Tommy Gomes: I got him frozen on screen.

Michelle Scheuermann: Oh shit, he is frozen. That’s awesome.

Tommy: That’s not so awesome.


Michelle: Oh, I wonder what happened.

Tommy: Where did I go?

Michelle: You’re there.

Scott Leysath: You’re still there.

Michelle: Yeah.

Tommy: Am I?

Michelle: Yeah.

Tommy: I don’t see anybody.

Michelle: Yeah, you’re there.

Tommy: I don’t see…

Scott: What did you hit?

Tommy: I don’t know what I hit.


Intro: Good day and welcome to Off the Record. You’ll find us at the intersection of interesting ideas and great pairings. It all tastes good when these two cook it up, so let’s listen in to The Sporting Chef, Scott Leysath, and outdoor industry insider, Michelle, as they talk wild game, wine, and anything else that comes to mind. Time to sample and sip our way through the best part of the day as we go off the record with The Sporting Chef and Michelle.

Scott: Okay. Off The Record with the Sporting Chef and Michelle. Our special guest this week is Tommy Gomes.

Tommy: Be careful. [chuckle]

Scott: Anybody out there know what a fishmonger is? Well, we got one. Tommy, he’s a twelfth-generation commercial fisherman. I’ve heard his spiel about what the hell he is and what he does, but I’m gonna let him tell you. Tommy, take it away. Tell me what it is you do. And what in the hell is a fishmonger?

Tommy: Hey, guys. Michelle, nice to meet you. Scott, always a pleasure.

Michelle: Yeah, thanks for being here.

Tommy: Yeah, super cool, right? So, fishmonger, it goes way back, it was actually the wives who were the fishmongers, pedaling the wares of the fishermen when they were out at sea and coming back to the docks. It’s a long-standing tradition. And it kinda died away. And I started using “Tommy the Fishmonger” on social media and stuff, and I found it interesting because then pretty soon more guys that had been in the industry for a while started using that handle, and then a friend of mine was like, “Dude, you gotta get a copyright,” and I’m like, “Wait… “

Michelle: Oh, really?

Tommy: “What are you talking about, a copyright? I’m just some dude.” So, yeah, copyright and trademark, “Tommy the Fishmonger.” It’s what I do, I sell seafood. I like to support our American fishermen because of what’s going on with our seafood, so yeah, that’s kind of like what I do.

Scott: Tommy, tell me about what’s going on with the commercial fishing industry down there in Southern California, which I’m sure is a reflection of what’s going on in the rest of the world, too? What’s up?

Tommy: Yeah. With everything that’s going on, the big wholesalers are not buying as much as they used to, and with the pandemic and the restaurants not buying and everything and people not going out, these fishermen, they still have to go out and catch fish, that’s what they do, we still have to feed the world, we still have to eat, and we have to bring in good quality seafood. So, up and down the coast of the West Coast, fishermen are selling at the docks, the families are selling off of the boats, and it’s really cool because the public is getting an unbelievable price on seafood that you have never seen before on the quality that’s coming off… Down here in San Diego, you’re getting $30 a pound tuna for $10 bucks.

Michelle: Oh, holy cow.

Tommy: It’s amazingly fresh, sushi grade stuff and everything’s being cut right there at the dock for you, and it’s really cool. And honestly, I don’t see it going back to the big processors to a guy coming in with 15,000, 20,000, 30,000 pounds of fish and just selling it all to one guy, I think they’re gonna be selling this off their boat to everybody and anybody, and that makes it super cool, because the fishermen are making money, they’re getting paid right away, then the public is getting a great deal, and the best part about it is educating, promoting, and having fun with your food. I mean, we’re all adults now, and so we actually get to play with our food, and this is one of the things, especially when it comes to offloading the boat, and you see a family come down with their children and they see a 600-pound swordfish coming off the boat, and it’s like, it’s super cool.”

Michelle: Right.

Scott: Well, they know that that fish wasn’t raised in a shrink-wrapped package at the grocery store, that’s what a fish looks like. We’ve kind of lost touch with where our food comes from, whether it’s a cow or a swordfish. And so, now, generally, how does a $10 a pound tuna that you’re selling off the dock, how would that compare to what a wholesaler would give that commercial fisherman for the same piece of fish?

Tommy: Well, the wholesale guys are buying tuna whole, the fish comes off the boat gilled and gutted, and then it goes to the wholesaler where they chop their head off, and then they weigh the fish. So, right off the bat, the fisherman’s losing money ’cause the head comes off. At the dock… I’m gonna kind of bounce around a little bit.

Scott: Yeah, yeah.

Tommy: At the dock, that head gets sold to an Asian family, Hispanic family, to another ethnic group family that knows what to do with the head, and you touched base on it earlier with the fact that we lost touch with our food. See, here in America, everybody wants a piece of fish, 4 ounces, flayed, bloodline out, skin off, no bones, and they don’t want it to taste like fish, so that’s super cool, go get a piece of fucking chicken, ’cause fish is fish. And that… Can you say that? I’m sorry.

Scott: Yeah, you can.

Michelle: Yeah, no, it’s all good.

Tommy: And it’s like you don’t kill a pig to make bacon, although bacon makes the world better, you still have… Yeah, you gotta eat the whole pig. You’re getting quality tuna at $10 a pound from the fishermen to the general public, the commercial fishermen are only going to get $2 to $3 a pound for the whole fish.

Scott: Right.

Michelle: Wow.

Tommy: Okay? Now, then there’s other parts and pieces of the fish that we’re marketing, the collar, and the belly section, and the bones to render down and make your stock and all that. And one of the things that I’ve noticed with the commercial fishermen is, on the bigger boats that have 20,000, 30,000 pounds, they’re selling, selling, selling, selling and I’ve watched towards the end there the grading of the fish, which I do, you have a number 1 grade, a 1-, a number 2+, a number 2, and then a number 3, and then a number 3 is more like a grilling grade tuna, there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s absolutely bitching, it’s just not that cherry red, gorgeous, beautiful piece of meat, but it’s still a beautiful thing to eat. And I watched the commercial fisherman give away that stuff to the food bank, the San Diego Food System Alliance Program. Well, they’ll give away 500 pounds of loins to go feed families that need help with getting food on the table. It’s kind of like the stuff that you do, Scott, with the deer and all that.

Scott: Right, with feeding the homeless folks. And I’m kind of curious why you have such a racist view of white people and why they don’t know what to do with a tuna head. What’s up with that?

Tommy: Oh, my God.


Scott: These days, this is no time to play around with that kind of stuff, Tommy, and I think saying that white people don’t know what to do with a tuna head, to me, it speaks a little bit racist.

Tommy: Well, we are in “Commie-fornia.”


Tommy: The fact is is that we have lost touch with our food, we don’t know… You’ve heard me say this before, Scott, I’m the first generation of a TV dinner, and since then our food’s gone downhill. Here in Southern California… Here in San Diego, America’s finest city, people save their pennies to come here. We have what I call food deserts. We have National City that has one or two supermarkets in it that’s ridiculous, but you have all these little liquor stores and all that stuff that sell a little bit of variety of food, but we don’t have the supermarkets that you can go into in some of the neighborhoods here, so we’ve lost touch with our food. And when it comes to seafood, the influx of foreign seafood that’s coming into this country, it’s a fucking disaster, it sucks, because the 99 cent fish taco here in Southern California is made from tilapia. Are you kidding me, really?

Scott: Right.

Tommy: Tilapia, and then swai. Swai is being farm-raised out of the Mekong Delta. We had that little Southeast conference, the conflict there, and just… Yeah. So, there’s all kinds of weird stuff going on with our seafood that’s coming in from far away lands, and a lot of it is not even inspected by the FDA. As a fishmonger…

Scott: I would assume that most of it is not inspected, right?

Tommy: Yeah, exactly.

Scott: I mean, there’s no way they can inspect, if they have to take random samples, they just can’t inspect everything, right?

Tommy: No, they can’t, and they don’t. So, I don’t know, fortunately or unfortunately, we have guys like me who are fishmongers who cut the fish, inspect the fish right then and there. On Saturday down here at Tuna Harbor Dockside Market, all the fishermen tie up and they sell their fish on this pier. And I’m actually in the cutting booth cutting fish, and what’s super cool about that is educating people. They come up with a little one and a half pound rock fish and they want it flayed, and I go over to them, I go, “Look, you really don’t wanna flay this because you’re gonna get this little… I’m pretty good, but if you’re only gonna get this little tiny piece, why don’t you cook the whole fish? Let me prepare it for you, I’ll scale it, gill it, gut it, trim all the fins off for you, score it. You can bake it, you can boil it, you can barbecue it, you can deep-fry it in that turkey fryer that you have in the top shelf of your garage that’s collecting dust next to the five-gallon bucket of peanut oil.” Right?

Scott: Right.

Tommy: Use that. And people come back and they’re like, “Oh, my gosh, it was great. We fried it just like you said,” and it’s like it’s cool. And so, you can educate people and move them forward from there on different pieces and parts of the fish. Like I said, you don’t kill a pig just to make bacon, there’s plenty of good stuff there.

Michelle: But you gotta start somewhere, right?

Tommy: Yeah. And there’s so much going on with seafood, it’s absolutely ridiculous. For instance, in Italy and in the Mediterranean and in areas of such, the big fish eat the small fish, and the population eat the small fish as well, they eat the sardines, the anchovies, the mackerel, all of that. We really don’t do that here. And catching, yes, back to the white people, back…


Scott: Racist.

Tommy: Us white folk, we don’t eat whole mackerel on a regular, commercial fishermen do, they know that it’s great, it’s an oily fish, it’s got plenty of omega-3s in it, it’s great, you can barbecue it, it’s absolutely bitching, it’s beautiful, but we just don’t do it, and that’s what we’re hoping to do, is to change the way America sees seafood. See, when people think… When they go to a restaurant, they want a swordfish, some type of farm raised bullshit salmon, they want something that they call sea bass, and they want tuna that is carbon monoxide gassed in order to retain its color while it’s frozen.

Scott: That’s that bright pink tuna that we see, right? So, let me see if I get it. Now, I’m assuming that this is probably getting more and more popular. I see that you post all the time when boats are coming in, what’s gonna be available, go to Dockside Market this weekend. Are people realizing that it’s much better to spend a little time to go down to the dock as opposed to going to the grocery store and getting some two-week old so-called fresh fish?

Tommy: Yes, we… I don’t wanna say I did it, ’cause there’s many hands in it. We definitely made it a destination location down at the docks, down at Driscoll’s, down at the Dockside Market, and then meeting the fishermen and getting their phone number or giving them your phone number, and you tell them, “I’d like a couple of 4-pound red rock fish. Call me when you catch them,” and they call and you can go meet the boat, so it’s like, meet the fleet, #meetthefleet. These are things that are exciting. The line is long, and I don’t know, Scott, I can only tell you what the fishermen are telling me, is that they’re very grateful for what I’ve been doing down there, driving customers down there, because when you can do a video and talk to the people, “Okay, look, this is what you need to do. Bring your coffee, bring the cooler, there’s free ice down here, get in line, practice social distancing. The line seems to be long because they only let so many people on the dock at a time, but it’ll move you through. If you only want rock crab, don’t get in the long line, get over here into this little short one because this guy is only selling rock crab, and he sets off by himself.” And so people are digging this because they’re like, okay, they got six rock crab.

Tommy: Now, what do they do with it? Well, you find me or you find a fisherman and you can steam it, you can boil it, you can barbecue it. We barbecued that box crab a couple of weeks ago. So, fish doesn’t necessarily need to come frozen, it certainly doesn’t necessarily need to be frozen in a box, coated in lemon pepper, bullshit, it needs salt, pepper, butter, that’s it, stupid, simple, easy, and then we move you on from there.

Tommy: And yes, fish leftovers are great, mix it up in some red sauce and throw it on some pasta, it’s cool stuff. Growing up on fishing boats, you eat a lot of fish, but you eat a lot of other things as well. And one of the things that I wanna do, I wanna take the skipjack tuna, the skipjack tuna, it’s harvested, and if it’s fresh, sushi guys will eat it, but most of it goes in a can, and it just says, “tuna”, that’s all it says. It doesn’t say “chunk light” it doesn’t say “fancy white” or anything like that, but on the tuna boats, we eat a lot of skipjack, we barbecue it, because we’re getting it fresh out of the net, we barbecue it, we make skipjack soup out of it, just unbelievable things, and that’s the same thing as a bonito or a bonita. It’s a beautiful fish. You bleed them, you take care of them. Barracuda, same thing.

Tommy: There’s all these great species out there, but people want… Here in America, they want a salmon, a swordfish, a sea bass, and some fricking tuna that’s flown in from God knows who, where, and then you’re getting into a whole different thing of pirated fish, slave labor, pirated fish, yeah.

Scott: I have a friend, I have a friend that used to call California the “Ahi Tuna State”, because it seems to be that that’s all anybody wants, is ahi tuna, it’s the ahi. And people that are catching all the time, people know that when bonita is fresh, you get it bled, you get it on ice, and you don’t stick it in your freezer, I love it. But for the same reason, a lot of people talk about, “Man, I don’t like snow geese, and I don’t like spoonies, and these kind of things,” most of the time it hasn’t been prepared properly or they just heard it’s no good, so they say, “Oh, yeah, it’s no good,” and they don’t even try and do anything with it.

Michelle: Well, say like here in the Midwest I have a lot of options.

Scott: Right. [chuckle]

Michelle: I don’t have a lot of options.

Scott: Right. You’ve got walleye, see, we don’t have walleye.

Michelle: Right.

Scott: You can get walleye in your stores.

Tommy: There’s a reason why we… There’s a reason why we don’t have walleye.


Scott: I love walleye. It’s a… You don’t love… You don’t like walleye, what kind of commie are you, a racist commie? Oh, thank you.

Tommy: I’ve never eaten walleye or walleye, or whatever. [chuckle]

Scott: Well, walleye is a whole different meal.

Scott: Well, you need to come out for a fish fry, okay? We need you.

Scott: Right.

Michelle: Yeah.

Scott: So, what people are hopefully learning from this whole thing, much like using a whole animal, whether it’s a wild turkey or a deer or whatever, what people will do with a wild turkey, they will remove the breast and they throw the rest of it away and then they’ll go buy a bouillon cube to use with their recipe instead of making stock out of that turkey carcass. And I’m sure that when Wrench & Rodent orders fish, they’re gonna get a whole fish, they don’t want somebody to give them a loin, they want the whole thing because they’re gonna use the whole thing, and if for folks that are anywhere near Southern California, near Oceanside, you need to go to the Wrench & Rodent, and yes, it’s just like it sounds. They are… It’s Seabasstropub Wrench & Rodent and in Oceanside. [chuckle]

Scott: It’s the most incredible place. Tommy and I caught a stingray for an upcoming Dead Meat show, and…

Tommy: That thing kicked your ass, bro.


Scott: It did not.

Tommy: It did.


Scott: I would occasionally… Just wait, when you see the TV show, it’s gonna look like…

Michelle: You’re gonna look really good.


Scott: It’s gonna look like I was drinking a cocktail with an umbrella and in it the whole time. You guys kept warning me, too, and I’m going, “No, it’s just here, I’ve got this,” and I thought I was…

Michelle: The truth comes out.

Scott: I thought like I was David Niven in a smoking jacket catching a gigantic stingray. So, we took it to the Wrench and Rodent, and the stuff that they did with it was incredible. So, anywhere near there, don’t order off the menu, if you’re lucky enough to get a seat at the Sushi Bar, just say, “Surprise me,” and then…

Michelle: Oh, oh my, I don’t know if I could ever do that. [chuckle]

Scott: And you’re gonna say… No, you cannot do that.


Tommy: You can’t do that until you drink a whole bunch of wine first and then you might… And then it would work for you. But the stuff that they do there, the whole point is, hopefully, like you’re talking about people that just wanted to get a couple of flays off of a rock fish, take the whole fish, use the whole fish. We used a whole stingray, well, we didn’t use it all, we had to leave some behind, ’cause it was a big ass stingray. But hopefully, people are learning to use all of their fish.

Michelle: Well, it’s the same thing you preach when you talk about deer and pheasant and duck is the same. And so, why would it be any different for a fish?

Scott: Well, because, like Tommy says, people who used to going to the grocery store and buying that shrink-wrapped package of that 4-ounce salmon from who knows where. And Tommy, you and I have talked about farming and farmed fish, and what’s your position on the future of fish farming?

Tommy: Oh, it’s here. It’s not going anywhere, we have to feed the masses. Okay? Not all farmed fish is bad, not all farmed fish is good, more of it is bad than good.

Michelle: But how do you know as a consumer?

Tommy: You read the label. So, let’s say you’re buying salmon, and you don’t eat beef, chicken, or pork, but they’re feeding that fish the by-product and using pig blood as a binding agent and all of that, clearly, you don’t wanna eat that fish, because of health or religious reasons. So, there’s places around the world… I would, me personally, I would never eat a farmed fish out of Chile, never. And there are some places that they go…

Scott: Why is that? Why do you say that, Tommy?

Tommy: ‘Cause they suck.

Scott: They suck, I need more than that, I need more than “they suck”. Tell me what’s wrong with Chile.

Tommy: So, in some areas, they’re packing the pen so full of fish that they rub up against each other, they’re pumping them full of food to grow bigger and grow bigger and faster and faster, and these fish are rubbing up against each other and it removes the slime and it creates a lesion, and now you have an open sore, and now you’re pumping them full of antibiotics that aren’t approved by the FDA, not that they’re the greatest, but they’re not approved for human consumption, and that stuff is being flown up here, and it’s got more frequent-flyer miles on it than your American Airlines credit card, and it’s total bullshit.

Tommy: You don’t need to eat salmon every fricking day, if you’re gonna eat salmon, eat Alaskan salmon, or eat farmed salmon coming out of Canada, or the United States, other countries that are doing farmed fish… Mexico, believe it or not, it’s got a great farmed operation, and I’m only saying that because they do have a great farming operation and they are our neighbors to the south, so that fish isn’t gonna be harvested and then bled, gilled, gutted, packed on ice, thrown in boxes, waiting on a pallet to be put on a truck, truck to an airport, sitting on a tarmac, put on an airplane, flown from wherever, landing in LA, sitting on another tarmac. Do you follow the picture? It’s not very fresh.

Scott: So, when I’m fishing, when I’m bass fishing at Picachos down in Mazatlán, and I see that they’ve got these nets out in the lake for tilapia, those tilapia should be okay, right, as opposed to the farmed ones where they’re eating striped bass shit?

Tommy: Well, we have… That’s different. Now, you have some tilapia farms, and, Scott, you’ve heard me mention this, where they grow three types of protein in these farms, they grow shrimp and tilapia, and then on these giant ponds, on top of them on the roof are the pigs, and they only feed the pigs, and the pig poops then falls in the water and the tilapia eat that, and they eat poop and it goes down to the bottom and the shrimp eat that. The number one farmed product consumed in America is shrimp. Read the label, know where it comes from. Look, would you buy a T-bone steak from China?

Scott: No. And the lion’s share of shrimp that we eat in the US has to be from somebody… It’s gotta be from Southeast Asia, right?

Tommy: Yeah, Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, places like that, India is huge. Mexico has a wonderful farmed shrimp program, absolutely.

Scott: And the American shrimp is in Louisiana, that was… The people that are fishing in the Gulf, if you have an experience, it’s gonna cost you a little bit more to get wild caught shrimp when you see it in the store, but it’s worth it, but you still wanna look at where it’s coming from, right?

Tommy: Right, you do, and then that goes all the way back to, what we were talking about in the beginning, the commercial fishermen in this country are over-regulated, they’re watched beyond belief. If you went to and looked, all the American boats have transponders on them that tell the government what they’re doing, where they’re at, and all that. The commercial fisherman, just like our farmers and our auto workers and steelworkers, they’re getting beat up. Every once in a while you’ll hear about the pig prices, pork prices dropping, the pork farmers are getting beat up, and the government will come in and help them out, same thing with the beef and the chicken guys, the government ain’t coming to help these commercial fishermen out, these guys are all independently owned and operated, unless you’re talking about the big corporations, like Trident Seafoods or Seafarer Seafood, or the big guys. And here in San Diego at one time, we were the largest tuna-fishing fleet in the world right up until the ’80s.

Tommy: Everybody was, Ralston Purina, Checkerboards Square, Bumble Bee, StarKist. There was one company that was so big that it had to have its own can-making manufacturing plant because that company alone fed like 60% of the world.

Scott: Wow.

Michelle: Geez.

Tommy: Now, we have five boats left flying the US flag, not one major cannery in the United States, Charlie Tuna is owned by the Koreans, StarKist just got sold to the… With Charlie Tuna and the Koreans, Chicken of the Seas got sold, it’s over, so now it’s all these independent guys that are trying to revitalize here in San Diego, revitalize what once was, and when you bring your families down to the docks, it’s a day and it’s a destination location, and it’s fun, and you get to talk to the fishermen. So, farmed fish…

Michelle: What else are you doing, really?

Scott: Alright. Now, I’ve seen how they’ll have planes fly over a section of the ocean looking for tuna, and then they’ll basically corral them and kinda tow them in at about 2 knots to wherever it is they’re gonna fatten them up before they process them, does that still happen?

Tommy: Yeah, my dad and my uncles, and… Yeah, we all did that, and… So yeah, you go out and you catch… It’s called ranching. So, it’s not really farming, it’s called ranching. You go out, you harvest the wild fish, and then you send divers in the net, the divers push them into a pen, kind of like the cattle coming into a corral, you’re counting them, and the divers are counting them, they get them in there, and then they tow them in real slow to the ranch, and then they feed them. Now, that, that’s devastating our thin fish stock, because they have to feed them and they’re feeding them…

Scott: What are they feeding them?

Tommy: Anchovies, sardines, mackerel. It takes 10 pounds of bait to make one pound of fatty tuna, it’s not adding up, and that stuff’s all going to Japan, Spain, places like that, and it’s big dollars, big bucks, big bucks. It’s nuts, and this is just my personal opinion, I don’t believe that it’s sustainable because it’s damaging the ecosystem of our bait-fish, our mackerel, sardines, anchovies, and those are enjoyed and eaten by other species of fish, game fish, even bottom fish. And it was 30 years ago or so, we had a thing called reduction fishing, where they would go out and they would harvest as much anchovies as they could and bring them in and grind it up and make fish meal out of it, they don’t do that anymore, because they found out that it wasn’t sustainable, yet we’re doing it to feed these bluefin ranches, and it boils down to one thing, and that’s money, yeah.

Scott: And how has the pandemic affected exports as far as are we… Has it affected so much that Japan’s not buying what they used to buy? Is it not just reduced demand in the US? Is it worldwide?

Tommy: It is worldwide. China was a big, big buyer of our California spiny lobsters, the one with no claws, and our fishermen were getting, at the dock, our fishermen were getting $20 to $22 a pound, and China… Yeah, we were buying as much as we could, that’s what we were paying the fishermen. And then, so imagine what China was getting, we had to ship it to China. Now, they’re not buying. I had a meeting a couple of days ago with a group of lobster fishermen, and they don’t wanna sell to any of the big guys anymore, and they’re willing to work at a lower price of say $13, $14 a pound. That would be great for a guy like me who’s getting ready to open a shop, put receivers in the water and buy as much as I can because I’ll be able to pass that on to the local restaurants and local families to where they can enjoy local lobster again, because they haven’t been able to get local lobster for the past 10 or 12 years.

Scott: Well, no, they got priced out of the market, obviously. And if it’s $22 at the dock, it’s $35, $40 for the retail, and people aren’t gonna pay that for a lobster with no cloves, right?

Tommy: No, they’ll buy it, like… They’ll have one lobster meal for the year, but if we can get it to them for under $20 a pound, they’ll buy lobsters.

Scott: Sure.

Michelle: I think what’s interesting about all this is how the pandemic has changed, we don’t think about it, we know it’s changed consumer behavior in many other marketplaces, but we didn’t… I didn’t realize how it has changed consumer behavior in the fish industry.

Tommy: Big time.

Scott: So, Michelle, what’s the fish of choice in Minnesota? What… If you go to the… What are you looking for when you go to a market in Minnesota?

Michelle: It’s usually tilapia, orange roughy, trout, walleye, but you can’t get walleye in the market, but…

Scott: But you used the T-word.

Michelle: Trout?

Scott: Yeah, tilapia.

Tommy: Tilapia.

Michelle: Oh, tilapia, yeah, there’s a lot of tilapia here, a lot.

Tommy: But you also used sea bass.

Michelle: Yeah, I don’t know what it is, I have no idea.

Tommy: Right?

Michelle: Yeah, I grew up on a farm in South Dakota, I don’t know if I actually ate fish until I was like 20, I don’t know.

Scott: Right. Which the only fish that was available was either what you caught or…

Michelle: Yeah, we would catch walleye, walleye is abundant, and back then we would catch walleye and eat that, but otherwise, if we got it from the Schwan’s man, frozen…

Scott: It might as well be the Gordon’s fisherman, right?

Michelle: Right.

Scott: With the yellow rain slicker on.

Michelle: Yeah, I just, I don’t… I literally know nothing about fish because I just don’t.

Tommy: Yeah. And that’s where guys like me come from, that’s where, you know… I love taking somebody that when it comes to seafood they’re green as a pool table and twice as square, I love it, absolutely love it, because it’s like, “Okay, we’re gonna cook this, and try it.” I used to do demos in my last retail shop in a corner, and people would come over and they would be like, “Tommy, what are you cooking?” “Oh, I’m cooking sable-fish, also known as black cod,” and they would eat it and they would be like, “Oh, my gosh, this is so buttery and good,” and they would go buy it, never having bought it before.

Tommy: So, if you can put it on a plate and get it in their face, people are gonna eat it, or the best part is with kids. “Well, I don’t eat fish,” “Okay, well here, try this hamburger. It was a ground adductor muscle of an opah fish,” and they were like, “Oh, this is really good.” “Yeah, it’s a piece of fish.” And once you get them going… And they had one bad experience with a piece of fish. It’s kind of like oysters. “Oh, I don’t eat oysters, I got sick, I got allergic from them,” “No, you probably ate a bad oyster, ’cause you got it in Podunk, Iowa from not a real oyster bar.”

Scott: You know what? I’ve been sick on oysters a few times, but…


Michelle: You still eat it, you still crave for it.

Scott: I still eat the shit out of them.

Tommy: Yeah.

Scott: And so, availability-wise, I was at Michelle’s house last summer, and I brought a big chunk of tuna, and people there were raving about how good this tuna was, and I got the tuna from you.

Tommy: I was gonna say, you didn’t get it from me, did you? [chuckle]

Scott: I did, I did get it from you, but people were going nuts about the quality of that tuna because I’m guessing, if you go to a grocery store in St. Paul, you’re not likely to find that good a tuna, I mean, it’s probably there maybe at a fish market, but… And it’s… Anywhere in the country now, you should be able to get fresh fish, it shouldn’t be more than a day or two away from the coast, right?

Tommy: Right. There are plenty of great seafood markets out there, I wanna say boutique-ish type, hipster type thing going on, but you’re gonna pay, it’s big money, and that turns people off, because the beef, chicken, and pork industry are so massive. See, the problem with seafood is, it doesn’t get better with age like beef, you know, you gotta move it or lose it, and literally, you either move it or you’re gonna eat it, and there’s only so much fish that the fishermen wanna eat. And more and more shops are opening up and doing fun things with fish again. Like, we’re gonna be dry aging, we’re gonna be dry aging fish, and we’re gonna focus more on Mediterranean salads from Europe and Spain and Morocco and places like that, to get people engaged again and to wake up that palette so they can go, “Wow, what is that?” “Well, you don’t really wanna know, but it was good. Just eat it.” Yeah.

Scott: So, Michelle, you’ve got tilapia, what are you doing with your tilapia at home?

Michelle: I usually bake it.


Michelle: I bake it with butter and some herbs or maybe orange slices or lemon slices and parchment paper or do one of those.

Tommy: You’re really outside the box there, aren’t you?

Michelle: Yes.


Scott: Great. I’m just trying to find out what they do in middle America.

Michelle: We don’t eat fish that much in this household.

Tommy: Yeah, I get it.

Scott: But is it just you guys or is that kind of the area and your friends, the same way?

Michelle: Unless my friends are vegan or…

Scott: They don’t count?

Michelle: Yeah, I mean, unless they’re on some sort of fad diet or something… Yeah, it’s just…

Scott: So, if you go to somebody’s house or you go into a house party, you’re more likely to get anything but fish?

Michelle: Oh, for sure, for sure. I think a lot of people… I think people are scared of fish here in the Midwest.

Tommy: They’re scared?

Michelle: Definitely scared to serve it.

Scott: Well, they’ve probably had some stinky fish. I had a guy that called me many years ago and he said, “Man, I’ve had this tuna in my refrigerator for a couple of weeks, what should I do with it?”

Michelle: Oh, my God.

Scott: And he said, “It’s starting to smell.” And it just seems to me that you really… You shouldn’t eat stinky fish, and if people say…

Michelle: The same with me, too. I mean… [chuckle]

Scott: Right, don’t eat stinky meat or fish, fair enough, right?

Michelle: Yeah.

Scott: It doesn’t mean you should soak it in something to not make it stink anymore, there’s a reason why it smells like that.

Michelle: You gotta be willing to ignore.

Scott: It’s letting you know not to eat it.

Michelle: Yeah. I’ve thrown many… I’ve thrown meat away, I don’t mess with it, I just don’t mess with that. If you know of the smell, you gotta get rid of it.

Tommy: Well, when it comes to fish, there is a time on the clock where it becomes bait.

Scott: Sure.

Michelle: Yeah.

Tommy: Very simple.

Scott: So, Tommy, if you’re freezing fish, let’s say you get your fish home, you vacuum seal it, you stick it in the freezer, how long should you keep that fish in the freezer if it’s not been commercially flash frozen?

Tommy: It’s up to the consumer to educate themselves on vacuum packing, first and foremost. Do you pat it dry? Do you pre-freeze and then vacuum pack? Do you use a 5ml thick bag? What kind of bag do you use? But, for me, if I was doing it like that, it would be anywhere from 3-5 months, maybe.

Scott: Yeah, three is about my limit. I’ll go over and use it for something else, but as you mentioned, fish doesn’t get better with age, and people will catch… They’ll go to the Sierras and catch a few trout, and then they kind of move it around, they will freeze it every year ’cause they don’t really know what to do with it, but they feel guilty about not using it, and I’m giving everybody permission, if you’ve had fish in your freezer for the last two years, chuck it out. If it’s…

Tommy: Chuck it. [chuckle]

Scott: It might be okay, you might be able to make a chowder or fish cakes out of it or something like that, but really, label and date it, eat your frozen fish within three months. Now, Tommy, not everybody has access to the fish that you have, most of the country is not San Diego and most of the country can’t get this stuff, and you’re absolutely correct when you say that good fish isn’t cheap, and I would rather save my money and buy good fish when it’s available as opposed… When I go to… When I decide what I’m gonna have for dinner, I don’t say, “Let’s have salmon,” I go to the market and I see what looks good. I like to go to Asian markets, ’cause I can buy a whole fish there, I can look at the gills, I can look at the eyes, ’cause I don’t live in San Diego.

Scott: People think that anybody who lives in California is on the beach with movie stars and surfers, and I’m way inland.

Michelle: That’s what they show in the commercials.

Scott: Yeah, yeah, well, don’t watch the commercials.

Tommy: Scott, I showed her…

Scott: ‘Cause that’s not the California I live in.

Tommy: I showed her my view.

Michelle: Yeah, I wish we could be showing the video, yeah, that’s good.

Scott: Oh, the view from your window?

Tommy: Yeah.

Scott: The View Point Loma.

Tommy: Yeah, like I’m looking at… I’m sitting on the couch looking out my window, and I see fishing boats.

Scott: Yeah, I’m looking at you, but it’s not very included.

Michelle: I’m looking at my neighbor mow his lawn, that’s what I got.

Tommy: Awesome. But the fact is is that when it comes to seafood, don’t be scared, don’t be scared. Don’t be stupid, but don’t be scared either. Get a piece, join, join something like or something, some mail-order seafood thing going on where they tell you that they have striped bass from Maryland, and so order it, try it, or they have yellowtail from California, or white sea bass from California. I’ll tell you, Michelle, honestly, if you eat a piece of California white sea bass, the only sea bass you’ll ever gonna want is California white sea bass, unless it’s Chilean sea bass, which is actually called Patagonian toothfish, but would you order Patagonian toothfish?

Michelle: No.

Tommy: No, you would order Chilean sea bass because it says “sea bass.” Marketing. Orange roughy is the same thing. You mentioned orange roughy the other day. The guy who found the biomass of that outside of Australia, New Zealand area, was a Russian, and his boats went out there and they started catching that, and they were just knocking, they were just wiping them out, and the only way he could sell it was flayed skin off because there’s such a thick blood line between the meat and the skin that the machine that he had to manufacture, he designed the machine, was a deep skinning machine, and it took half the meat off because the meat was dark, dark, red, a bloodline, and people don’t want that. Orange roughy is this beautiful white piece of fish, white piece of flesh. So again, educating on what to do with seafood is… Who was the first guy to open up an oyster and say, “Oh, that looks delicious, I think I’ll eat it”?


Scott: It was me, it was one of my ancestors.

Michelle: One of your ancestors. [chuckle] So was mine. It was mine.

Tommy: Yeah, who was that? And speaking of oysters, who was the first guy that went, “Oh, I’m gonna call these Rocky Mountain oysters”? What is up with that guy?


Scott: That’s all marketing, I think.

Michelle: Yeah. [laughter]

Tommy: And what we did, we took the…

Michelle: Talking marketing again. [chuckle] Well, thank you so much, Tommy. I think we need to add that.

Scott: I do wanna tell people that this isn’t official yet, but you may see me and Tommy with our own show on Outdoor Channel next year. So, look forward on Outdoor Channel, stay tuned. It’s not official yet, which means anything can tank at any given moment, but it’s looking pretty good right now.

Michelle: We’re just gossiping right now. [laughter]

Scott: So, you heard it here first. And anybody that goes to the Fred Hall Shows in Southern California, Tommy and I are kind of a permanent fixture at the Fred Hall Shows in the Sporting Chef Cafe, come by, we cook, we eat, and we give stuff away.

Tommy: Yeah.

Scott: So, how do people find you?

Michelle: We need to do this again, Tommy, we need to do it again.

Scott: How do they find you, Tommy? If they wanna find out what’s going on in San Diego and where to find fish, what do they do?

Tommy: They call a Federal Probation Department and ask for a probation officer, yeah.


Tommy: No, I’m on Instagram, Tommy the Fishmonger, Facebook, Tommy the Fishmonger, or Tommy Gomes. Look for a new seafood shop opening soon in San Diego.

Scott: Where?

Tommy: In Point Loma. It’s going to be called Tunaville Seafoods in honor of the neighborhood that it’s in back in the day.

Scott: Right next to Chula, right?

Tommy: Right next to the boys that Chula seafood, those guys are always fun, and… Yeah, cool stuff going on. I’m all over the Internet and stuff like that. You can find me, it’s not hard, Tommy the Fishmonger, or Tommy Gomes. Look it up. Cool stuff happening.

Michelle: Will your new store ship to Minnesota?

Tommy: I’ll ship you, I’ll ship it to you now if you want.


Scott: But you have to promise not to bake it.

Michelle: Oh, okay, okay, I can do that.

Scott: Just this once.

Michelle: We have a smoker, I can smoke it.

Scott: Just don’t smoke it too long.

Tommy: There’s a lot of smoking going on out here in California now, I’ll tell you about it.

Scott: Yeah, there is.


Scott: And on that note… [chuckle]

Michelle: Thank you, guys.

Scott: Thanks again.

Tommy: Thanks.

Outro: Well, time sure flies when you’re loading up on good food, good wine, and great conversation. Find more Scott Leysath at , where you can also nab a free wild game e-book and sign up for his two times a month newsletter, track him on social media, and see how to watch The Sporting Chef airing on Sportsman Channel and Dead Meat on Sportsman Channel and MyOutdoorTV. For more Michelle, check out She runs her own marketing communications firm, handling PR, social media, and more for some of the biggest names in the outdoors. That’s it for now. We’ll see you next time when, again, we go Off the Record with The Sporting Chef and Michelle.

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