Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Santa Barbara Mollusks

The Queen Mary, 1978

Years ago I went out to California, to attend Sea Fare, one of two big annual trade shows for the American seafood industry. Some of my associates got to go to the big Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. I went to Long Beach.

Even back in the 1980s CES exhibitors spent millions on their displays. They spared no expense displaying their products and entertaining customers in lavish hospitality suites where they might meet stars like Paul Anka or Joan Rivers.

At Sea Fare, exhibitors set up card tables, tacked up posters and plugged in Fry Babies to cook samples. The most excitement was when someone let a couple Dungeness crabs out on the floor to fight with each other. A hospitality suite was a boom box and a hooker.

One of the more interesting booths near ours was for something called “Santa Barbara Mollusks.” They were giant scallop-like things, presumably from the Santa Barbara Channel off California. They were quite tasty, too, after a little breading and dunking in the Fry Baby.

But the longer I stood over in our Virginia seafood industry booth watching the action at the Santa Barbara Mollusk booth, the more I began to wonder just how they cultivated and harvested such big “mollusks.” And why did they use a generic term like “mollusks” to describe them rather than a more familiar name? I’d also wondered how clean these “mollusks” were given that they come from an area rife with oil wells.

As the show was shutting down one afternoon, I wandered over and asked those very questions of the guy manning the booth. He drew me in close, looked both ways to make sure no one else was listening, and explained:

“You’re a smart guy. You see, we’re not really in the seafood business. My company has the contract to scrape the marine life off the oil platforms in the Santa Barbara Channel. We discovered these giant mollusks growing on the legs of the oil rigs and wanted to see if we could make a little money selling them. We’ve had them tested. They’re safe. But we can’t call them anything but ‘mollusks’ because they’re not officially scallops. We don’t know if it’s something from the oil rigs or something else in the channel that makes them so big and tasty. But the big seafood restaurant chains attending this show are buying them up like there’s no tomorrow.”

That, as they say, was more than I needed to know about Santa Barbara Mollusks.

I didn’t carry a camera with me when I traveled for business in those days. But years before when I stayed in Long Beach while on other business I did catch this blurry sunrise shot of the Queen Mary at her permanent berth in Long Beach Harbor.


  1. Oh, now that's just scary! I imagine that happens more than we'd like to think. Just after I had crab cakes for dinner, too...you had to go telling me this, didn't you!

  2. ps
    Didn't even comment on that beautiful image above, though! It's ethereal.

  3. And those were the good old days.