When to Eat What For the Local Catch of the Day: Navigating In Season Seafood on Catalina Island

Most of us love fresh fish, and it truly is something you don’t find everywhere. Most fish at mainland restaurants and grocery stores are flown in from different parts of the world and handled by a “middleman” before being delivered, so by the time you eat it, it’s already 3 days old. In order to earn that “fresh fish” honor it’s got to be caught locally and put on your plate quickly. Catalina Island in this regard offers something truly unique, something only smaller islands and small communities can offer. The reason the size of the place matters is because larger islands and communities still go through the middleman to get fish to different locations. On Catalina some of the restaurant owners are fisherman with fishing boats and bring in their own fresh catch. Since some of these fish are so large, they sell to other restaurants which ups your chance of finding fish at your restaurant of choice. The waters around Catalina offer several prized game fish and seafood throughout the year, BUT you gotta know what’s in season and what’s not, or it too comes from the mainland middleman. If you’re a seafood enthusiast eager to indulge in the island’s culinary treasures, here is your guide.

Spring Offerings: Yellowtail and Halibut
As spring flowers blossom on Catalina Island, so does the availability of Yellowtail and Halibut. Typically, in early spring when the water temperature rises above about 62 degrees, Yellowtail arrives in Southern California from Mexico in search of schools of squid. The best time to go after Halibut around the Channel Islands is in spring, usually from March to June, and in the fall, September–November. These prized catches bring a burst of flavor to the table with their tender meat and distinct taste. When dining out, don’t miss the opportunity to savor Yellowtail sushi or Halibut ceviche, both sure to tantalize your taste buds with their freshness and delicate textures.

Summertime Splendors: White Seabass and Bluefin Tuna
As the Pacific Ocean warms up, so brings the bigger guys from Baja Mexico into our local waters. Summer ushers in an abundance of White Seabass and Bluefin Tuna, two sought-after fish known for their firm texture and rich flavors. Local restaurants often showcase these delicacies in dishes such as Grilled White Seabass drizzled with citrus-infused sauces or seared Bluefin Tuna served with a side of seaweed salad.

Autumn’s Harvest: Yellowfin Tuna and Swordfish
As the leaves change and the temperatures cool, Catalina Island’s waters offer up Yellowfin Tuna and Swordfish. These flavorful catches lend themselves perfectly to hearty, grilled preparations. When dining out, keep an eye out for dishes like Seared Yellowfin Tuna steak or Grilled Swordfish with a medley of seasonal vegetables.

Winter Wonders: Rockfish, Lingcod, Pacific Spiny Lobster
Winter brings its own treasures with Rockfish, Lingcod, and lobster making their appearance. These 2 fish species are known for their mild, flaky flesh, making them perfect candidates for comforting dishes like Fish and Chips or Seafood Stews like cioppino or seafood chowder. Recreational lobster season opens October-March every year. Insider Tip Alert: If you are confident in the water, bring your mask and snorkel and free dive for your own in the waters around Avalon. Lobster can be found in shallow waters, just make sure you get your lobster permit. Take your catch to the Lobster Trap Restaurant, and they will cook it up for you. Not feeling it? Local lobster can be found at several restaurants in town during the season. What does pacific spiny lobster taste like? Catalina waters are warmer than Maine and the Atlantic Ocean, so the taste is different from east coast lobster. Our local lobster doesn’t have claws and aren’t as sweet but are tasty and worth a try for sure. Again, think freshness and local as the selling points here.

A Year-Round Delight: Calico Sea Bass
Sometimes known as Kelp Bass, is a local favorite that can be found year-round. Insider tip alert: Believe it or not, they can be caught right off the green pier with a handline bought from Joe’s rent-a-boat. If you catch one, take it to Rosie’s (about 10 feet from where you are fishing) or the Lobster Trap Restaurant and have them cook it up for you. Its firm texture and slightly sweet flavor make it a versatile choice for various preparations. My kids bring them home, and I make Mexican fish tacos, delish! Don’t forget to measure your catch to make sure it’s legal size. Find the measuring rulers fastened to the pier railings for an easy measure. But whether you’re indulging in Calico Bass tacos or a mouthwatering Bass filet, this fish is the easiest catch on Catalina Island, hands down.

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Catalina Island’s culinary scene is a testament to the bountiful treasures the surrounding waters provide. By understanding which fish are in season during different times of the year, you can fully immerse yourself in the island’s fish culture. From the delicate flavors of Halibut and Yellowtail in the spring to the robust richness of Swordfish and Yellowfin Tuna in the fall, each season brings its own unique seafood experiences. Insider Tip Alert: Make sure when you’re dining at local restaurants you inquire about the day’s LOCAL freshest catch and have them ask the kitchen where the fish is from and how long ago it was delivered. If the fish on this list aren’t mentioned in the correct season, you will know it was brought in from the mainland. By asking more questions, this will give you the best chance to celebrate the island’s maritime bounty in season. Bon Appetit!