FRIEDMAN: Popotla essence of old fish camp

Published 08 February 11 02:37 PM

By Phil Friedman, Correspondent 

Mona Castro approached Will Ebersman of Santa Monica with a 16-inch knife in one hand and an 8-pound spider crab in the other.

"What do you want?" she asked. "What do you want?"

Castro approached Ebersman in the tiny fish camp of Popotla, located 10 minutes south of Rosarito Beach. Popotla looks like Puerto Nuevo, 40 years ago. There was heavy commerce going on last weekend. Pangas were backing into the surf with giant sheepshead, lingcod, rockfish and the first catch of Coronado Island yellowtail of 2011.

In a time when private boaters have all the electronics of a NASA spaceship, pangeros in Baja continue to catch their fair share of fish. In fact, the pangeros returned last weekend with the first catch of Coronado Island yellowtail, beating the sophisticated San Diego sportfishing fleet to the punch.

The pangas return each afternoon and set up shop, offering the freshest bounty of the sea. They also supply about 25 restaurants with everything from lobster to rockfish to fresh yellowtail.

Castro used to live in Chula Vista with her husband, who passed away seven years ago. After his death, Castro said she was lost.

"I came to Popotla and found a home," she said.

Castro now cleans fish for $5 a kilo. She wanders from panga to panga with knives in hand ready to butcher fresh fish for her clients.

"It's therapeutic," Castro said. "I have found peace here."

On the surface, Popotla is anything but tranquil. Fishermen are transformed into vendors.

"Pescado fresco, langosta, lenguado," is the call as people are beckoned to the freshest fish anywhere. The pangas depart every morning and return around 3 p.m. with their catch. Locals gather to buy fresh fish and seafood while restaurant owners purchase fish to provide a culinary feast for their clients.

Ivan Bertran, 18, works seven days a week for his father on one of the 25 or so pangas here. Bertran said he and two others fish from 7 a.m. until 2 p.m. everyday. They then return to sell their catch for the rest of the day. Bertran said he makes about $50 a day.

Carlos Vergugo, nicknamed Charlie, is known as the king of reds in Popotla. El Rey is best known for taking more rockfish than anyone here and has been fishing these waters for 29 years.

Castro recently knocked out 100 kilos of fish in less than an hour with the help of Gabriela Navaro, 32, and one other. She loves her work and loves the ambience of a Baja fish camp.

"Since my husband died, I have found peace here," Castro said. "I don't know what it is about this place, but I just feel at home here."

Ebersman was so taken with the Baja fish camp that he is organizing a weekend panga adventure here April 8-10.

"It's right on the full moon, so we are hoping for white seabass, yellowtail and lots of big rockfish," he said. The trip will be based out of the Rosarito Beach Hotel.


No Comments
Anonymous comments are disabled

This Blog