‘Tommy the Fishmonger’ has his own TV series and is bringing a seafood market to Point Loma
New Outdoor Channel series stars Tommy Gomes, whose fishing roots in San Diego go back 129 years.
Chances are, if you’ve enjoyed locally caught seafood at a San Diego restaurant over the past 20 years, Tommy Gomes had a hand in it somehow.
For decades, he’s been the city’s best-known fishmonger, seafood educator and promoter, working as a conduit between local fishermen and the restaurants who serve their daily catch. Now, America gets the chance to know San Diego’s most-beloved old salt when “The Fishmonger” premieres at 7:30 p.m. Monday, March 1, on the Outdoor Channel.
Gomes — widely known locally as “Tommy the Fishmonger” — is the host and star of the eight-episode documentary series that features scenes of him meeting and hitting the sea with San Diego fishing crews, cooking with local chefs and talking with sustainable-seafood advocates about the challenges faced by America’s fast-shrinking fishing fleet.
Like most fishing industry veterans, Gomes is known for his sometimes salty language and for keeping fishermen’s hours.
He’s usually in bed at his home overlooking Sunset Cliffs by 8 p.m. so he can be on his way to the docks by 3 a.m. to meet the first boats arriving with their catch. He said some of the local fishermen are none too keen about his new TV show and refused to appear on camera. But he hopes they’ll appreciate how the show celebrates their way of life.
Gomes is the third-generation descendant of a family of Portuguese tuna fishermen who settled in San Diego in 1892. Some of his ancestors’ names are inscribed on the Tunaman’s Memorial on Shelter Island, which he visits in one of the “Fishmonger” episodes.
“We tell a little of my story, but it’s not about me,” Gomes said. “It’s more about the story of San Diego and commercial fishing in general.”
Gomes’ seafood career began at age 12, when he started selling bait clams to fishermen on the Imperial Beach Pier at the price of two for a nickel. It wasn’t long before he was a crew member on a fishing boat.
“Growing up in a fishing family, you always knew you were going to go on a fishing boat. That’s just the way it was in Little Italy and Point Loma, especially if you were a kid who had a tendency to get in trouble,” he said. “The idea was you were going to go out on a fishing boat as a boy and you’d come back a man.”
In 2003, Gomes retired from the sea and started working as a fish cutter, which evolved into the job of fishmonger for Dave Rudie’s Catalina Offshore Products, where he worked until going solo in 2019.
Early on, Gomes recognized the need for consumers to know more about what they eat and to support the livelihoods of local fishing crews. During much of the 1900s, commercial fishing was one of the three biggest drivers of the San Diego economy. Today, there are no more than 120 commercial fishing boats left in San Diego, Gomes estimated.
“It’s a hard way of life in so many ways that people can’t fathom,” Gomes said. “It’s hard because it tugs at your heart when you’re leaving the bay and the city disappears behind you as you head out to sea. But when you’re heading back home, the excitement and joy you feel just makes it an amazing lifestyle. We need to cherish that part of San Diego. We need to remember our history and our traditions and the American fishermen and women that helped build this city.”
During his time at Catalina Offshore, Gomes opened a seafood education and nutrition center, created the nonprofit dinner series Collaboration Kitchen and helped obtain a 2019 grant from a national fisheries organization to promote local fishing.
He now teaches seafood classes to students at the nonprofit Kitchens for Good culinary art school and has worked with local fishing crews to promote and sell their catch to the public directly from their boats, because the COVID-19 pandemic dried up much of their sales to temporarily shuttered local restaurants.
And this summer, Gomes plans to launch TunaVille Market and Grocers at Driscoll’s Wharf in Point Loma, partnering with Mitch Conniff, owner of Point Loma’s Mitch’s Seafood.
The market will carry local seafood and ready-to-cook meals, plus salads, sandwiches and ceviche, according to Eater San Diego. Gomes’ plans for the location also include an education center for classes and special events.
The TV series is an idea Gomes said he’s been dreaming about for a decade. After meeting at several trade shows over the years, Gomes became friends with Scott Leysath, a wild-game chef who hosts three shows on the Outdoor and Sportsman channels: “Hunt.Fish.Feed,” “Dead Meat” and “Sporting Chef.” When Gomes pitched the idea for “The Fishmonger” to Leysath, he liked it so much that he agreed to sign on as producer and successfully pitched the series to Outdoor.
Filming began last summer and is ongoing. The network’s commitment is for just one season, but Gomes hopes it will be picked up for more.
The first eight episodes feature some of San Diego’s best-known fishermen, fish sellers, sushi chefs and sustainable-seafood advocates, including Pete Halmay, Rob Ruiz, Davin Waite and Anthony Pascale, as well as Christina Ng from the Berry Good Food Foundation.
City food celebrity Sam “The Cooking Guy” Zien also is featured.
“I’ve learned more about seafood from Tommy Gomes than anyone else,” Zien said in a text. “It’s his matter-of-fact, no-B.S. style that’s made him a local seafood legend and a dear friend. But don’t be fooled by his appearances, because under that gruff, cranky, ‘Hey, you kids, get off my lawn’ exterior is a teacher wanting to share his knowledge and love of all things seafood with the world.”
To watch “The Fishmonger,” visit outdoorchannel.com/show/fishmonger/388571.
— Point Loma-OB Monthly staff contributed to this report.