Sea Stephanie Fish
Stephanie Mutz gets ready to dive off the coast of Santa Barbara. (Photo: Jason Wise)
Meet Stephanie Mutz
As we continue featuring our artisans and partners, we’re proud to introduce another very special purveyor and friend who are part of our extended SingleThread family. Stephanie Mutz is a veteran Sea Urchin and Whelk diver in Santa Barbara, and a owner of Sea Stephanie Fish. Stephanie’s commitment to sustainable fishing spans decades, and she shares our commitment toward stewardship of land and sea.
A true Southern Californian, Stephanie's roots were intertwined with the sea from an early age, her days marked by lifeguarding, surfing, and the rhythm of the waves. With a heart that beat in sync with the tides, she pursued her passion for the marine world, embarking on a path that led her to UC Santa Barbara to study Marine Biology. After obtaining her degree, Stephanie's unquenchable thirst for understanding the ocean's secrets led her to a role where she inventoried the coastal wonders of California and the tropical reefs of Tahiti. Half a decade spent delving into the depths of research, Stephanie's quest for knowledge carried her to Australia, where she earned her Masters in Marine Ecology under the esteemed Professor Howard Choat. While the allure of Australia's shores beckoned, Stephanie's unwavering connection to her homeland drew her back.
“When you step out of the car in Santa Barbara, or anywhere along the coast in CA, you smell the Kelp. The Kelp is how I know I’m home. There’s nothing like it. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do outside of the one class I taught at Ventura College, so I started taking various odd jobs - including being a deckhand on a fishing boat. That’s when I fell in love with fishing, and Sea Urchin fishing in particular. When in Academia, I was heavily involved in Fishing Policy - and I knew that I would be better at it if I had working knowledge of fishing.”
CA Sea Urchin (Photo: Katie Sowul/CDFW)
The California sea urchin, also known as the red sea urchin, is a species of sea urchin that is found along the Pacific coast of North America, from Alaska to Baja California. It is highly valued for its edible gonads, which are commonly known as Uni in Japanese cuisine. Uni has a distinctive rich, creamy, and slightly sweet flavor, and is often served raw as sashimi or as a topping for sushi and rice bowls. Due to its popularity, the California sea urchin has become an important species, and is subject to strict regulations to ensure its sustainability. Stephanie’s focus on sustainability and biodiversity in the sea makes her approach to Sea Urchin fishing unique. She joins her fellow Urchin fishermen in advocating for policy to protect the ecosystem of our local waters.
“We call our way of fishing ‘ocean landscaping’. We are careful and caring of the Urchins and the world they live in. We study the ocean to ensure that we are fishing in areas that have not been heavily fished - studying the currents, waves, kelp and more. My job is purposeful as I pick them one by one - and we never take more than we need. I call them my Princesses!”
The harvest starts. (Photo: Jason Wise)
Stephanie’s day begins at 6 AM as she and her team set out to sea - they generally fish in the CA channel islands of Santa Cruz, San Miguel or Santa Rosa. It’s a minimum of 1-3 hour commute out to the islands, and then it takes time to carefully find a spot as Stephanie shared. They spend anywhere from 1-3 hours diving for the Urchins - carefully navigating the kelp forest amidst strong under current streams. Once back on shore, the Urchins are kept in water tanks until they are delivered to Single Thread, ensuring that they stay alive and healthy.
“It’s a beautiful process to watch these talented Chefs create such amazing dishes with my seafood. It’s a collaboration between us and I love seeing the thoughtfulness and intentionality that Chef Kyle, Marley and the team put into their cooking. I’ve dined at SingleThread twice, once with my mother, and it was life changing for both of us as neither of us had ever had an experience like that. I feel incredibly grateful to work with this team.”
Our Chefs pre-order Sea Urchin and Whelk so Stephanie and her partner always know how much will be needed. As a zero-waste kitchen, we also leverage the shells in our presentation and plating.
(Photo: John Troxell)
Watch The Delicacy on Apple TV - featuring Stephanie, Chef Kyle and Katina along with other prolific voices in the culinary world
Sea Urchins Are California Gold: Hunter Gatherer - video interview with Stephanie