Tommy Gomes began working at Catalina Offshore Products in 2003 as a fish filleter. Today, he is the company’s expert fishmonger and its public face; a sustainable seafood advocate; and fixture in San Diego’s food community.

A native San Diegan whose Portuguese family settled in San Diego in 1892, Tommy comes from a long line of professional fishermen. Working the tuna fleets gave him deep knowledge of the industry and he has since become a leading voice in seafood education. He advocates for “seafood done right” – by the local fishermen, the small fishermen, the hook and line and trap guys – and is an outspoken player in Marine Life Protection Act initiatives. Catalina Offshore Product’s no-waste philosophy is perhaps championed by no one better.

Tommy’s vision of turning discarded material from byproducts or processing sea urchins into usable product led to the creation of the recreational fish bait Uni Butter® and Uni Goop®, which he sells through the company. He encourages consumption of seafood bycatch versus wasting it; teaches customers about whole fish-cooking; and promotes lesser-known edibles such as swordfish marrow, fish collars, liver, and ground fish, which he makes in-house from less marketable cuts.

In Catalina Offshore Products’ Seafood Education and Nutrition Center, which also houses a public fish market, it’s not uncommon to find Tommy working six days a week. He proposed the walk-in retail concept to CEO Dave Rudie as a way to expand the company’s reach beyond wholesale and online retail sales and directly interface with the local community. The center launched in 2012 and has become a daily stop for the city’s best chefs and foodies, as well as folks looking to overcome fears of cooking with seafood. Tommy arrives as early as 5 a.m. and answers chef calls to his cell phone well into the night. He’s even been known to come in on Sundays when the facility is closed to handle emergency menu situations. On weekends he invites guest chefs to come in and show customers healthy ways to cook fish. During the week, the teacher in him can’t help but to get behind the cooktop.

Tommy has been called a guerilla marketing machine when it comes to educating people about seafood and building buzz. He voices his opinion via his personal Facebook page and contributes “Fishmonger Friday” videos to the company page. His personal YouTube page has received nearly 69,000 views since late 2011, and the company page, which mostly features Tommy, has received nearly 1 million since 2009. He has flair for one-take videos, talking off the cuff about everything from how to crack a lobster or break down a whole fish, to sustainability and why buying local matters. It is this flair, coupled with his breadth of knowledge, which not only attracts customers but the media. In 2011 he landed on a leading local publication’s list of “50 People to Watch”. He has been sought out for countless print articles, as well as TV, including a segment on Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern. And with every platform, his collaborative nature shines through: he never misses the opportunity to promote local chefs, particularly up and comers, who are “doing it right”.

When it comes to giving back to the community, Tommy goes above and beyond the call of duty. Off the clock, he frequently speaks and presents seafood tastings at ‘farm to table’ and sustainable seafood events; participates in children’s fishing programs; provides seafood education classes at local cooking schools; and leads Catalina Offshore Products’ semi-monthly nonprofit dinner series, Collaboration Kitchen, which he conceptualized five years ago. With a mission to “educate, promote and have fun”, the in-warehouse event features a guest chef who cooks for an audience, and proceeds from ticket sales are donated to local charities. The first Collaboration Kitchen merely involved Tommy’s closest friends. It now boasts nearly 100 guests per event, having grown only by word of mouth and social media.

Saltwater runs deep in Tommy’s veins. He doesn’t have a high school diploma and he’ll be the first to tell you that he doesn’t have a lot of “$20 words” in his vocabulary. What he does know is seafood and about that, he is very, very passionate.