Malibu Pier’s Freshest Catch

Jack Murtagh, 19, of Pacific Palisades displays his thresher shark, caught at the Malibu Pier last Wednesday.

“Fresh. Organic. Local.”

This slogan belongs to the popular restaurant Malibu Farm, best known for serving gemstone-colored juices in mason jars and leafy bowls at the Malibu Pier. 

But these words also happen to describe another kind of meal to be had at the pier—one local fisherman and 2019 Pali High grad Jack Murtagh caught Wednesday, July 8. 

Around 1 p.m. that day, Murtagh, 19, reeled in a thresher shark measuring seven feet exactly and weighing between 80-100 pounds. 

Murtagh, who lives in Pacific Palisades, has been fishing at the Malibu Pier for around seven years at this point and has bagged many a thresher shark in the past. Nevertheless, he was still delighted to catch another last Wednesday. He had come to the pier with that express purpose, arriving right when it opened at 8 a.m. “You kinda go there all day and you just sit there, and if you get ‘em, you get ‘em, and if you don’t, you don’t, so it was exciting for sure,” he said in a recent interview with The Malibu Times

Though Murtagh’s catch was not particularly big compared to most sharks one could get from a boat, it was certainly big for the pier. In general, the thresher shark is one of the largest species one can find so close to shore in Southern California, though about two-thirds of their length is their tail, Lieutenant Kory Collins of the California Department of Fish & Wildlife told The Malibu Times.

There is no size limit on catching thresher sharks. Fishermen are allowed to take home two thresher sharks per day. 

Most fishermen release any sharks they catch, but it is also normal for people to keep them to eat. Collins described threshers as “pretty prize table fare.” In fact, not very long ago, threshers were frequently served in restaurants.

Thresher and mako are the only two types of shark that are good to eat, according to Murtagh: “They taste just like swordfish.” Similarly, Malibu Pier Concessionaire Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner told The Malibu Times thresher “tastes a lot like halibut.” 

“It’s one of the tastier fish,” Wagner said. “I know for a fact because I’ve eaten it.”

But that’s only if one ensures the shark’s blood doesn’t get into the meat, which changes the taste. One can do this by slitting a shark’s gills or piercing its head so it bleeds out. Slitting the gills is also more humane because that way the shark “doesn’t sit there and suffer on the deck,” Collins said. 

Malibu Pier is a very common place to catch threshers, especially 100-200 yards off the pier, according to Wagner. He surfs past the sharks, which he referred to as “beautiful fish” signified by their higher fins and tails, often. 

Threshers are also most common in the summertime. Thresher shark adults pass through Southern California water in early spring but remain offshore for one to two months to reproduce, according to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center. Thresher pups then move into shallow coastal waters. Evidence suggests these juveniles make up the majority of threshers caught off the pier. 

Threshers do not pose any danger to humans, according to Wagner, though The Malibu Times does have a record of a 250-pound thresher shark harpooned by Zuma Beach lifeguards on May 20, 1966. That shark was killed because it was either sick or very hungry— indicated by its invasion of extremely shallow waters filled with around 250 swimmers who had to be cleared from the beach.

More than 50 years later and around nine miles down the coast from Zuma, Murtagh’s shark caused much less of a stir. Some pier visitors may have been surprised to see a bloody shark go by as they sipped their frosé. But at the end of the day, food doesn’t get much fresher, more organic or more local than a day-of, seaside catch.