Mark Tognazzini Knows His Way Around a Fish in Morro Bay
Mark Tognazzini knows his way around a fish–any kind of fish. He’s a fisherman who lands big King salmon off the California coast in his fishing boat, and when it’s time to come to shore, he emails his loyal following in the town of Morro Bay California and all of the precious filets are spoken for right quick.
We met Mark at one of his three seafood restaurants called Dockside on the working waterfront of Morro Bay just in time to taste two of their locally caught fish species, black cod and bank rockfish. Petrale sole is another popular fish, along with chowder made from locally farmed oysters.
In this small town of about 10,000, the Tognazzini family owns a long strip of buildings in front of the wharf where the fish come in from the sea. Eleven years ago he began combining his fish market with restaurants to offer his catch to the public, without a middle man. Today they buy from many different suppliers and the much of the salmon still comes from his boat the Bonnie Marietta.
Mark grew up in town, and when we told him we were staying at the cozy Anderson Inn, he recalled that Jeff Anderson was a classmate. Whether it’s a local fisherman or a fishmonger, everyone knows who Mark is and his friendly demeanor and hard work has built a mini-empire here in the Central Coast.
He took us into the back of the fish market and showed us a pile of fish on the floor–eight different species that some fishmongers might all call Pacific snapper. But he explained that at his market they sell each one with its proper name, and though catching fish on lines and hauling them up one by one is more time consuming, it makes for a much better product. We can attest–the black cod was mouth tender and so was the rockfish. Both are worth the extra cost at the fish counter.
Aboard the Bonnie Marietta, Mark showed us how he can do all of the fishing and piloting at the same time, using auto pilot and plotters that allow him to follow a set course or even run in a circle while he’s in the back tending lines. Each of the salmon, ranging from 9-14 lbs, is first stunned with the back of a gaff hook and then hauled one by one over the side. A quick cut to the gills bleeds them and then they are immediately iced.
“The most important thing about a fish is how it is handled by the fisherman, not the fish market. In fact contrary to what many gourmands might think, a fish that’s been allowed to sit a few days before it is filleted is better than one straight from the hook. Fish has a shelf life of about 10-14 days, depending on the species, Mark said.
Morro Bay has a zoning law that’s helped keep its working waterfront prosperous. Only fishing related businesses can locate on one side, so the souvenir shops and ice cream joints are all on the far side. It means you can stroll around and see the fishing business in action while across town there’s plenty of tourist attractions to make you happy too.
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