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Toxic Incidence : Fish Scare Eating Into Cash Registers

April 25, 1985|HEIDI EVANS | Times Staff Writer

Recent findings of contaminated fish in Santa Monica and San Pedro bays have put a health scare into some Orange County residents, resulting in a business decline for many local fish merchants and eateries.

"People are scared, I'll say that," said Patrick Bennett of Bennett's Fish Market in Santa Ana, adding that 50 of his customers have called to make sure his fish do not come from the contaminated areas. Bennett said his supplies come from Northern California, Oregon and Canada.

The fish scare began earlier this month when the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board and the state Health Services Department issued warnings about consumption of fish taken from Santa Monica and San Pedro bays. Both agencies have called for further investigation of the dangerous levels of toxic chemicals in fish caught in the two bays.

About 20 miles down the coast from San Pedro Bay, at the foot of the Newport Beach Pier, customers have been scarce for the dory fishermen. Made up of 14 family operators who fish from their small boats and sell their catch, Newport's dory fleet long has been a popular open-air market for fresh fish.

But now, said a solemn Carl Marberry, "everybody down here thinks we're selling people poison fish.," Marberry, 28, added that if it had not been for the toxic scare, he could have made $400 instead of $40 from the mackerel he caught during the dark hours of Wednesday morning. "They (customers) just don't show like they usually do."

Nearby, another dory fisherman, JoAnn Brey, wrapped up some red snapper and whiting for the only customer at her stand.

Brey said it was unfair that she and other local fishermen are suffering because of the controversy up the coast. She called the situation "a bunch of political b.s."

A waitress at the Bodega Bay Seafood Restaurant in Huntington Beach said Wednesday that more people are ordering beef and chicken since the April 11 report about the discovery of DDT and other toxins in the waters between Santa Monica Bay and Long Beach.

"A lot of people are scared, " said Lisa Benanti, the perky 21-year-old waitress. She said business recently has been off by about half despite the owner's assurances that the fish he serves do not come from the contaminated areas.

An elderly Huntington Beach woman, surrounded by several Bodega Bay patrons relishing their halibut and shrimp, said, "I try not to eat any fish in California," as she smiled at her half-eaten tostada.

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