When Faces set out to interview fishermen from Port San Luis, everyone said the same thing: “You have to interview Archie Ponds.” A past president of the Port San Luis Commercial Fishermen’s Association (PSLCFA), Captain Ponds began fishing commercially in 1989, and bought his first boat a few years later. He is married to Patricia, and they have one son, Forrest. Forrest fishes in partnership with his father, as well as on his own.
Before turning to commercial fishing, Captain Ponds did an obligatory tour of duty in Vietnam. Once back in the states, he worked with heavy equipment and welding for a number of years. A partial hearing loss required a change of employment, and the long-time coastal resident turned to the sea – or actually, to the beach.
Captain Ponds began his commercial fishing career harvesting surf perch from the San Luis Obispo County beaches. After a few years of hiking over the beaches carrying a backpack of fish and all of his gear, Captain Ponds was able to acquire his first small fishing boat.
This was the early 1990s, and with the recent development of a market for live rockfish, the nearshore fishery was booming. Captain Ponds joined the nearshore fleet, harvesting rockfish, halibut and white sea bass. By 1995, he was growing weary of having to constantly negotiate for what he felt were fair prices for his fresh sea products, and Captain Ponds acquired a license to wholesale fish. Before long, Captain Ponds was buying rockfish from practically all of the nearshore fishermen in Port San Luis, then either trucking the fish out himself or hiring a driver to take them to Los Angeles or San Francisco – while continuing to fish as much as possible.
In 1998, Captain Ponds bought the24.6-foot F/V Big Easy. On it, he continues to harvest nearshore rockfish, halibut, white sea bass and, on occasion, albacore. When Faces caught up with Captain Ponds, he had just returned from fishing, and was scrambling to unload the rest of the fleet, while his own catch waited in tanks on the Big Easy. It was a beautiful, sunny day and two other fishermen had accompanied him on the boat that day, economizing on fuel and enjoying each other’s company, all the while earning a good days’ wages.
Highly respected by his peers, he continues to serve on the PSLCFA Board, and works with the Department of Fish and Game on their behalf to ensure that resources are adequately protected while still providing for viable fisheries. Captain Ponds buys live rockfish from the Port San Luis fleet daily, and employs a number of the local fishermen as drivers.
The next time you’re in Avila Beach, stop and take a walk on the historic Harford Pier. If it’s early afternoon, you’ll find Captain Ponds out at the end of the pier, unloading the Port San Luis nearshore fleet’s catch of the day. If you catch him with an odd free moment between offloading boats, he might even sell you a fresh-caught local rockfish.