The commercial fishing industry can be hard to break into, especially if you’re not from a fishing family. Doing so requires a high tolerance for risk, a willingness to endure razor thin margins for a few years, and a whole lot of hustle. But for David Toriumi, 38, getting to be his own boss and fish for a living make the difficulties worthwhile.

“It’s been a struggle even to this day,” he says. “It used to be the harder I worked the more I got paid. Now I can’t get enough time on the water to put in the work needed to make money.”

Not to be deterred, Toriumi has slowly built his fishing business from the ground up.

Toriumi owns the 33-foot F/V Grinder on which he fishes king salmon and Dungeness crab. He also has a 25-foot Boston Whaler, F/V Salt N Season, which he uses to target California halibut, sea bass, lingcod and rockfish. The Grinder was an upgrade from a 22-foot Aqua Sport he first bought in 2014. But to cut costs for day trips for nearshore groundfish, Toriumi added the Salt N Season last year.

He has also been a member of the California Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group working to share best practices on how to mitigate whale entanglement.

In recent years, he has also brought his catch straight to the public to increase his margins with regular dock sales in Moss Landing on weekends. He also sells for Real Good Fish, a community supported fishery based in Moss Landing.

“I want to know my fish goes directly to the community. I don’t want it sitting on a shelf in a grocery store,” he says. But he also notes he doesn’t always catch the volume needed to make it worthwhile at the price many wholesale buyers offer.

Toriumi grew up working in his family’s car shop, Toriumi Auto Repair, in Watsonville, and followed in his father’s trade, becoming an auto mechanic. He’d been an enthusiastic sport fisherman his whole life, spending lots of time on the nearby Monterey Bay with a rod and reel.

In 2007, he was given an opportunity that would change the course of his life, a deck job picking sockeye salmon on Alaska’s Bristol Bay. Toriumi would gillnet for salmon in Bristol Bay for seven years, while still working as a mechanic. But he had the bug. He wanted to be on the water instead of in a garage, sacrificing security for the variability of the sea.

“I saw a lot of opportunity in doing something I love,” he says. “I often question that decision, but I’m hoping I can hang on.”

Toriumi lives in Prunedale, Calif., with his wife and two young sons; River, 7, and Ronan, 3. He takes them down to the boat and shows them his craft when he’s tied up. Sometimes River will join him for day trips, and in a few years Ronan will join, too.

“I love looking back at land and hearing the traffic and sirens fade away. You can’t even buy that,” he says. “The freedom and the hard work are what I love, watching the weather and following water conditions, figuring out where the fish will be.” 

Nick Rahaim is a writer and commercial fisherman based in Monterey, Calif. Check out his website, outside-in.org, and follow him on Twitter and Instagram @nrahaim.

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