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Mark Brubaker of Five Star Fishing Company


Brubaker in his “other element”, riding his motorcycle at Zaca Station Motocross Park in Los Olivos, CA.
Photo by Taylor Nation / Special Contributor – Journalism 201A

By Taylor Nation
Special Contributor
Journalism 201A

Years ago, the young captain of a small fishing company and his single employee set out on another day on the water at Point Arena in Mendocino County; “another day” that would now be remembered as the scariest night of their lives.

Winds at a speed of over 40 knots (about 50 miles per hour) kicked up a swell that gave way to waves taller than 30 feet. The boat, and its two passengers, had to fight to stay afloat and avoid tipping over in the intense storm. The captain thought for sure he was going to die. This was the moment when Mark Brubaker, the owner and captain of Five Star Fish Company wondered, was it worth it?

Fast forward to to the present-day, and Brubaker and his now two-employee crew have learned from their past mistakes and are sitting it out this week.

Five Star Fishing Company has settled down in the much calmer waters of the Santa Barbara Channel. High winds that most of the area had been experiencing created choppy conditions on the ocean that just aren’t worth the trip out to the Channel Islands.

Brubaker’s “time off” is either spent in his home office or preparing traps and equipment for when it is time to return back to the ocean.

Brubaker is a Santa Barbara native with a passion to work hard for what he wants, a trait that was first revealed with his love for surfing and being outdoors. Actually, surfing was the middle man that led him to where he is today.

By the time Brubaker reached middle school, he was obsessed with surf culture. Many surfers at the time, and now, are avid boaters, constantly traveling by sea in search of the best surfing locations, according to Brubaker.

He was so determined to be a great surfer that he really wanted to take it to the next level and learn to navigate and operate a boat in the ocean.

“I always admired the lives of the surfers at that time. I thought what better way to overall improve my surfing skills when I’m out of the water than to pursue a career that is in the ocean.”

When he discovered that there was enough money to be made in the fishing industry, he immediately started learning at entry-level positions. Soaking up every bit of advice he could hold in, he eventually branched off on his own as a diver starting his career in the early 1980s.

He named his company “Five Star Fishing Company” because he wanted his product to be associated with the rating of five stars, which is given to only the best of the best in all industries, according to him. He dove for sea urchins, sea cucumbers, abalone, and worked on some research projects with the University of California, Santa Barbara.

He recognized that just diving wouldn’t always pay the bills, Brubaker began to diversify his palette. He apprenticed for line and trap fishermen, and tried his luck all over the coast of California. Brubaker claimed that he owes a lot of credit to the more experienced divers he met at the beginning of his career.

“They helped me create a real business plan and get serious,” he said. “They showed me the ropes, literally. I learned so much about how a boat works, how to repair a boat, what to do in certain situations and other things like that. In my mind, it was just extra training for surfing, so I definitely listened, and it paid off.”

A typical day in the life of fisherman Mark Brubaker starts off quite early in the morning about 3:30 a.m. with a big cup of coffee and a 30 minute drive to the Santa Barbara Harbor from his home in Santa Ynez.

He and his employees grab the boat and set off, shooting to leave the harbor at about 5:00 a.m. every morning. They take an enjoyable hour and a half journey over to their spot off of the Channel Islands, and get to work. They bring in the traps, collect the catch, and set the traps up again.

Depending what sea life is in season for catching, that last step may vary a bit. He said the rest of their day would go a little bit like this:

“We’ll probably have a snack, listen to some sweet music, tell crazy old stories, pack up our stuff, ride home, and end the day at 3:00 p.m.,” he said.

Starting the day off early allows Brubaker and his crew to be done early and hit the least amount of boat traffic, and make it home in time to spend some quality time and be there for his children. Brubaker saids that owning his own business allows for flexibility, one perk of his job that he loves and wouldn’t trade for anything.

The fishing industry is not always as laidback as its reputation, according to Brubaker. Things have changed a lot in the Santa Barbara Harbor in recent years.

“There is a lot of politics in the fishing industry, as there is with anything”, Brubaker said. He said that there is little regulation about who can fish where, how much they can catch, etcetera.

Five Star Fishing Company and many other Santa Barbara Harbor based fishermen who have ruled the harbor for a long time now have to battle against some newcomers, over-catching, and new regulations. But, in light of it, the ever-changing nature of the ocean is the true conductor of the fishing industry. Sometimes there is a lot to catch, and some seasons there is little to none, according to Brubaker. This is an aspect of business that the fishing industry is always aware of, and can make it more of a challenge to stay afloat at times.

“No matter how sparse a season can be, those willing to put in the extra work and those who have a real passion for what they do will always make ends meet,” he said. “An outlook like this will lead to an almost 30 year old business run like Brubaker’s.”

On days when he is not fishing, Brubaker can be found relaxing at his home in Santa Ynez with his wife and three sons. And, on weekends, he can be found tearing up the local motocross track with his group of friends, better known as “Wild Bill and the Six Shooters”. With his increasing age and experience on the water, Brubaker has decided that sometimes it’s better to stay on land.