Steve Anello bought his first boat when he was 14. His family loaned him the $15,000 for the vessel and the salmon and crab fishing outside Bodega Bay was so good he paid off the loan in just one year.
Since then he’s owned seven or eight boats. Now 63, Anello says he fished for just about everything—squid, herring, tuna, rockfish, halibut and the salmon and crab mainstays and raised his family doing it. But in the 50 years since he started fishing for a living, things have changed.
“It’s death by a thousand cuts,” he said, lighting a Marlboro red as he prepared a solo trip in his 45-foot boat the Donna Mia. Word on the dock was there was a school of salmon right offshore and he wanted to get to them before the party boats full of recreational fishermen got wind of it.
Anello cited a litany of challenges–increasing state and federal fishing regulations, truncated seasons, dams that impede river flows and water-hungry farmers that reduce freshwater habitat for salmon.
“It’s a struggle,” he said.
Factor in boats that can cost $1 million or more, the steep price of permits and the cost of diesel for fuel-guzzling boats, and it’s a wonder anyone makes a go of commercial fishing anymore. But they do. While the salmon fishery isn’t what it used to be, this past summer was a good one for salmon with a great run of chinook appearing in local markets.
“There are down years, but they keep coming back,” said Anello.
The same could be said for Anello’s family. They are lifers in the Bodega Bay fishing community. His wife, son and daughter-in-law run Anello Family Crab & Seafood, a dockside restaurant with great fish tacos, crab salad sandwiches and clam chowder. Across the street his brother Tony and family operate the always-busy Spud Point Crab Co. where customers line up year round for their celebrated chowder.
But after five decades on the water, Anello thinks about calling it quits. But not just yet. He’s got his mind set on those salmon.
“He knows where the fish are,” says Shane Lucas, another Bodega Bay native who grew up in the fishing business.
Lucas worked on his family’s wholesale fish buying dock before setting out on his own to open another celebrated Bodega Bay restaurant with his wife Dana—Fishetarian Fish Market. Like the Spud Point Crab Co. across the harbor, there’s usually a line winding out the door. To keep up, they go through about 1,500 pounds of rockfish a week.
“We’re all about wild and fresh,” says Lucas.
Back on the dock, Anello has a gleam in his eye and a cigarette between his lips as he readies to motor out of the narrow Bodega Bay harbor and out in the Pacific.
“Every year is a new adventure,” he says.