Getting up in the middle of the night to drive to the harbor in Morro Bay (or Oxnard or San Diego) is nothing out of the ordinary for the Williams kids. They’ve been doing it all their lives. And when their mom, Dania, says they have to stop at a supermarket at 3 a.m. to get provisions before going to the docks, the kids know just what that means.
Their father is coming in to port.
Chris Williams is a commercial fisherman. Has been for 35 years. His work influences nearly every facet of the Williams’ family life. And they wouldn’t have it any other way.
About 90 percent of the catch Chris and his deckhand pull in on Chris’ boat, the Linde, is sold to a wholesaler and will end up in supermarkets and restaurants all over the U.S. and overseas. The remaining 10 percent or so Dania sells at the Channel Islands Harbor Farmers Market each Sunday under the banner “Fresh Fish Fanatics.”
After fishing the other six days of the week, Chris comes to the harbor early Sunday morning to prepare the fish for the market. “The fish that we sell at farmers market was swimming in the ocean yesterday or the day before,” Dania explains. Chris cuts it Sunday morning. “He keeps it whole on the bone until Sunday morning and only uses fresh seawater to rinse it. You’re not going to get that anywhere else.”
Even fresh fish at the supermarkets is a few days old, either flash-frozen at sea or kept on ice. “There’s nothing wrong with that,” Dania assures, “but this is fresher. It’s called ‘day fresh fish.’”
The couple takes pride in what they bring to the farmers market to sell under the blue tent just up from the docks. According to Dania, a lot of their repeat customers come from the Conejo Valley.
Chris’ target species include swordfish, white sea bass, halibut and California king crab which, Dania says, is their specialty. “Our California king crab tastes like lobster.”
But the life of a fisherman (and his family) is not for the weak of heart. Commercial fishing is one of the most dangerous jobs around, Dania says, something she didn’t fully understand before she married Chris 17 years ago. “I knew he was a fisherman but I didn’t know what that really meant for our lives. I had no idea how dangerous it was.”
more below …
Clockwise from top left: The Linde. Fresh fish on ice during a typical Sunday farmers market. Seared ahi à la Max Williams. Micah Williams with a bluefin tuna. A California king crab. The sign announcing what’s available at the Fish Fanatics booth one Sunday at Channel Islands Harbor Farmers Market. Fresh Fish Fanatics is open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The two met when Dania, who was living on a boat, sailed south from San Francisco and stopped in Oxnard, getting a job at the boatyard to earn some money before she moved on to the next port. “Chris’ slip was right next to where I worked.” Chris asked her if she wanted some part-time work keeping his books. Even though bookkeeping wasn’t her strong point, Dania took the job. Six weeks later they were talking marriage.
Now Dania embraces her role as the Fisherman’s Wife, which is what she calls herself in the blog she began when they started selling at the farmers market five years ago. The name is fitting because Dania’s life, as well as the lives of their three kids, aged 15, 11 and 8, are somewhat defined by Chris’ work.
“During the tough season, Chris is gone about six months straight.” Swordfish season stretches from late August through January and during that time Chris spends most of his time out at sea fishing some 150 miles from shore. When the boat is full, Chris calls Dania and his wholesaler and tells them which port he’ll be pulling in to, which could be as far north as Morro Bay or as far south as San Diego, depending on which he is closest to at the time.
That’s when Dania rallies the children, no matter what time of day or night. “If we want to see him, we drop everything and go see him.” Dania and the kids help weigh and count the catch. The wholesale truck loads up (a catch may be 10,000 pounds of fish), Chris “provisions up” and heads back out to sea.
“There’s no way our kids could go to regular school. They would never see their dad.” That’s one of the reasons Dania homeschools the children.
The visits are brief, as Chris does a quick turnaround. But if the weather’s bad, the family may get a little extra time together as he waits for the weather to settle down before returning to sea. And, Dania says, she “makes him come home for Christmas.”
The rest of the year, Chris is on the boat six days each week, returning home each night. “He doesn’t get much sleep in sea bass season,” says the fisherman’s wife. Chris sets out during the night so he can arrive at his fishing spot and cast his nets by morning, fishing all day and returning by night.
This summer, Chris and Dania’s 15-year-old son, who wants to save money to buy a car, will be working for his father, fishing alongside him on the Linde.
Dania shares some of her fresh fish dishes here.
Many of her recipes come from customers who stop by the blue tent at Sunday’s farmers market to buy their day fresh fish and exchange delicious ways to prepare it. Check out her blog for more recipes.
Combine the measure-free seasonings to taste.
Sea bass fillets, about ½ pound each
Sliced citrus, enough to cover
bottom of baking dish*
Preheat oven to 375°.
Swipe the bottom of a glass baking dish with olive oil. Slice the citrus of your choice and layer the bottom of the dish with it.
Mix remaining olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Pat the fish dry and brush on the mixture. Place fish on the citrus.
Bake, uncovered, for 12 to 15 minutes.
Remove from oven when the fish is still a little underdone. It will continue to cook.
Heat sauté pan to low-medium heat. Add butter, salt, pepper and garlic.
Allow to infuse, being careful not to burn the butter. Pour garlic butter into a small dish and set aside.
Add olive oil to the pan and heat to medium high.
Pat the fish dry. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place fish in hot pan and pour the butter/garlic sauce over it.
Cook about 2 minutes. Turn the fish and cook about 2 more minutes, spooning the sauce over the fish as it cooks.
Dania likes to serve this dish with fresh halved cherry tomatoes and fresh basil, warmed up quickly in the pan after fish is removed.
*Dania prefers “the good stuff,” Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter, available at Costco.
†Optional: add capers to the garlic butter.
Pat fish dry with a paper towel. Sprinkle seasonings over the fish, lightly rubbing in.
Heat olive oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Place fish in pan and sear one side for about 45 seconds. Turn fish and repeat.
Place the fish on cutting board and let rest for a minute or two. Slice thin, against the grain.
Serve with soy sauce on the side.
Seared Ahi Recipe courtesy of Chris and Dania’s son, Max Williams.
*Any seasoned salt can be substituted.