Just a pier's length away from Santa Monica's Ivy at the Shore, where yuppies sup on $25 seafood entrees, scores of fisher folk brave the brine to get theirs for free. From 6 a.m. to about 11 p.m. every day, the end of the Santa Monica Pier, pronged with fishing rods, looks like a fine-toothed comb. On this Wednesday, word is that someone's caught Jaws 3. Sure enough, on the lower deck, Jose Flores, father of 10, beams over a four-foot leopard shark. "I'll be making ceviche for five days," he says in Spanish.
Does he come here often? "This is his living room," laughs Rudy Panameno, 19, who's been a regular since he recently lost his job. Of the 50 or so anglers here, there is a core of about 20 who come three or four times a week and stay all day. Panameno and his buddies plan to pull an all-nighter tonight; the best bites, they claim, are at sunset and sunup, when whole schools of mackerel stream in. Of course, there are no guarantees of catching anything, except perhaps a cold. But a good day's catch can stuff a plastic Vons bag (the poor man's bucket) to the gills with mackerel, herring, bonita, bass, perch, halibut, corvina and crabs. (There is also an abundance of white croaker, also known as tomcod and kingfish, which the L.A. County Health Department warns is not safe to eat.) During eight hours on a recent Sunday, Julian Martin and his family caught more than 100 fish. These regular weekend outings go far to pay the grocery bill for Martin, a single dad supporting five children with a gardening job at Santa Monica City College. Fortunately, the kids like fish, even for breakfast. But does he think it's safe, considering how polluted the bay is? "There are certain fish you don't eat, " says Martin, "but otherwise, sure."
The county health department agrees. "The only fish we know that's been over tolerances for DDTs and PCBs is white croaker," says Paul Papanek, chief of toxics and epidemiology."Other than that, there's not a whole lot you need to worry about in local fish."