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It’s not surprising that fisherman Chris Zajac’s oil paintings are mostly seascapes. He’s a classic “portfolio” fisherman who goes after salmon in the summer, crab in the late fall/winter, and black cod and rockfish in between those seasons. Chris has an art degree from UC Santa Cruz, and took to fishing as a summer job right out of college, for the same reason many do: “I needed to make money,” he explained. He’s been fishing for 35 years, and has found that fishing and being an artist both come with their own challenges.
“Fishing is hardcore physical labor,” he said. “But art isn’t easy either. With classical art, you need training. And you never know if a painting will sell. They are both uncertain economically, but I have a passion for them.”
He offloads and docks his fishing vessel, Serena May, in the Santa Cruz harbor where sometimes storms block them in and the boats can’t go out and fish. This, not the hard work and uncertain prices, is hardest for him. “I love leaving the safety of land, the freedom of going out on a boat,” he said. “When I’m stuck in harbor, I feel like a caged critter.” Painting images of the Monterey Bay helps until he can get back out to sea.
His favorite local seafoods are spot prawns and king salmon. His favorite way to prepare them? “Keep it super simple,” he said. “For salmon, I put some garlic and olive on fillets, grill them, then add a little lemon and black pepper afterwards. With fresh fish, you don’t need to do much. The flavor is already so good.”