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Lucky day for tuna lovers

October 04, 2006|Amy Scattergood | Times Staff Writer

THREE years ago, Tony and Barbara West, longtime San Pedro residents, opened their own micro-cannery business, canning albacore tuna that Tony caught on his boat the Steel Fin II, in waters off the coast of southern Washington state. After a career spent sport and commercial fishing, Tony and Barbara had decided to start their own cottage business.

While Tony fished, Barbara ran the business out of her home, selling the cans of "gourmet albacore" in local farmers markets. When Tony passed away a year ago, Barbara continued, leasing her boat to an old friend and colleague, Tim Thomas, who had fished for Tony over the years. Barbara admits she'll probably sell Thomas the boat sooner or later and retire, but meanwhile, she loves the business, her fish and setting up shop every weekend under her bright awning. Working out of her San Pedro home is more fun for Barbara than you'd think: During our interview, she had to stop to shoo a peacock out of her kitchen.

Question: Does that happen often? The peacock thing?

Answer: Well, I do like to leave my door open. I think I need to close it now.

Q: What time of year do you fish for albacore?

A: The season runs from June to October, but normally we wait until September to take fish for our business: The water's colder and there's more omega-3 oils in the fish.

Q: You market your fish as a healthier alternative to other canned tuna because of those omega-3 fatty acids. Has the worry about mercury affected your business?

A: People started walking past our booth. They didn't even stop and ask, even though mercury is a cumulative thing and these fish are young. And we have them tested.

Q: Why is your business named "Shamrock"?

A: About 20 years ago, you couldn't get an American fisherman to stick with you too long, but Tony read that in Ireland, the fishermen had about 50% unemployment. He put an ad in the Irish Fisherman's News for help. Tony [eventually] got 14 guys over from Ireland. He was known for his Irish connections.

Q: That sounds kind of clandestine.

A: He loved the traditional music. He learned to play the tin whistle. And his radio code name was Shamrock.

Q: What do you enjoy most about your business?

A: Over the years I've become more outgoing. And at this stage of the game, it's good for me to get out and enjoy people. Tony had the charm; I was more of an invertebrate. Oh! I meant another word!

Q: Introvert?

A: Yes, that's it!

Q: Fishermen are often superstitious people. Did your husband have any special rituals he'd observe?

A: Tony wouldn't go out on Friday. And he never brought bananas on the boat.

Q: Bananas?

A: Bananas. I have no idea.

Q: He must have caught things other than fish. What's the weirdest thing he ever caught?

A: Tony caught part of an airplane once. And a small boat.

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amy.scattergood@ latimes.com

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Canned albacore, $3 for a 3-ounce can, $4 for a 6-ounce can. Available at Barbara West's Shamrock Gourmet Albacore Tuna stand, at the Torrance Farmers Market, Wilson Park at 2200 Crenshaw Blvd., Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., and the Studio City Farmers Market, Ventura Boulevard and Ventura Place, Sundays, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information, go to www.albatuna.com or call (310) 519-7177.

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