Off-the-Boat and Over-the-Bank Sales

Off-the-Boat Sales, Washington State

Off-the-boat sales may be the most straightforward type of alternative market because it allows fishermen to use their boat as a space for selling their product, eliminating the need for land transport and most other infrastructure. Through this alternative market, fishermen sell their seafood directly to consumers and, when permitted, local chefs and caterers. It has the added benefit of allowing fishermen to show customers their fishing boat and gear, and provide information about their fishing operations and fisheries. Such face-to-face interactions with consumers can help build a loyal customer base, which may expand via word-of-mouth. This type of alternative market often requires that the boat have enough space and cold storage to handle and maintain high quality product. Depending on harbor, local and state regulations, fishermen may or may not be allowed to cut fish into portions. Also, there may be rules about when fishermen can sell their product, whether signs can be posted to advertise, and other operational details. (Although this type of alternative market is not allowed at some ports, a dockside fishermen's market may be.)

Over-the-bank sales are very similar. On the West Coast, they are used primarily by tribal in-river fishermen who are permitted to sell their catch at designated landing points along coastal rivers.

To evaluate whether this type of alternative market is an option for you, explore the benefits and challenges (in addition to those on the Considerations page), key questions, tips and resources in the boxes below.

Off-the-Boat and Over-the-Bank Sales

Benefits and Challenges

  • Little to no need for transportation, packaging, and shoreside infrastructure
  • Offers flexibility, as you determine days and times you are open for business
  • You control product quality from the time of capture until it is in the hands of the customer
  • Opportunity to sell less familiar products 
  • Face-to-face interactions with customers allow you to:
    • educate them
    • obtain their feedback
    • build long-term relationships with them, which may provide support when needed
  • Customer flow uncertain; advertising may be necessary 
  • Sales may be limited when other fishermen are selling similar product at the same time
  • Processing into portions, fillets or steaks likely needed to meet customer demand, requiring additional resources (financial, human, physical) and/or arrangements with a processor or seafood market
  • Market hours or access may be limited by local rules
Off-the-Boat and Over-the-Bank Sales

Key Questions

Here are some questions to ask yourself and others about the operations of and personal considerations for this market type. Contact proper authorities to obtain up-to-date information and specific requirements for your business.

  • Does your harbor/wharf/local agency allow off-the-boat sales?
  • Is your boat accessible and visible to potential customers?
  • When will you hold the market to maximize sales?
  • Do you have the proper equipment and supplies for maintaining safe, high quality product while handling, holding and selling it? 
  • Do you need to process your catch? If so, what additional facilities, supplies, equipment, personnel and permits are needed?
    • How will you address additional seafood safety issues? What kind of control measures, monitoring procedures and records are needed to document the use of safe handling practices?
  • If other boats are marketing the same product, will the demand be high enough to support you and the others?
  • What will you do with the product that does not sell?


Off-the-Boat and Over-the-Bank Sales


Consult with the proper resource management, public health and business authorities before selling your seafood. In some states, requirements for selling to the public are different from those for selling to retailers, chefs and other food service providers (see Permits and More).


  • Organize your catch by weight, size and type in your storage container, and make a map of this arrangement. This will help you and others locate desired product quickly and minimize product exposure to warmer temperatures, etc.
  • If your slip location in the harbor is not ideal for attracting customers, explore whether you can tie up at a more accessible place.
  • Post signs that list products and prices.
  • Provide or have customers bring a cooler or insulated bag with ice or ice packs to maintain safe, high quality product during transport.


  • Consider partnering with a local seafood market or others who have the proper permits, facilities, and trained personnel to process your customers’ purchases (e.g., cook shellfish, cut and wrap steaks/filets). Providers of this service may charge a fee to be paid by you or your customer.
  • Describe how your pricing reflects the high quality of your product and service.
  • Consider collecting email addresses from customers to enable communications outside of the sales venue, including notifying them of product availability.
  • Maintain strong customer relations. The more customers interact with you and learn from you, the greater the likelihood they will continue to buy from you.
    • Provide customers with information on safe storage and handling of product, recipes, the catch, yourself and your fishing operation, and related stories.
    • Consider providing free samples, especially for less familiar products.
    • Try to be consistent in your availability, hours and location.
Off-the-Boat and Over-the-Bank Sales


Buying albacore tuna directly from a commercial fisherman. Video. 
OR Sea Grant.
Guidelines for retail fish sales from commercial fishing vessels
California Department of Environmental Health. Guidelines for off-the-boat seafood sales in CA developed by the CCDEH, an organization comprised of Environmental Health Directors from CA's 58 counties and 4 CA cities.
Setting up your boat for direct marketing
Fisherman's Direct Marketing Manual. AK, OR & WA Sea Grant.
Tips for Direct Marketers: The Onboard DEC Inspection
AK Sea Grant.Provides guidance on preparing for onboard inspection to meet requirements of (national) HACCP and of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

Additional permits and other documentation usually are needed to establish an alternative market. Be sure to consult with resource management, public health and business authorities before selling your seafood.

Information provided on this page was synthesized from interviews with fishermen and buyers, and from the Fishermen’s Direct Marketing Manual, the Small Farm and Direct Marketing Handbook, ATTRA publications, and other resources (see About this Website and Resources).