Sarah Rathbone wants to change the way you shop for seafood in the spring.

“I’m encouraging people to eat the unknown,” Rathbone said on a recent Saturday at the Downtown farmers market. “Eat the fish you haven’t heard about. All these tiny little boats are avoiding the bad weather and finding unusual species.”

Cape Seafood and Provisions get their fish from a variety of hook and line fishermen based in Santa Barbara.

On that particular morning, a few of Rathbone’s customers were playing with a half dozen Southern California Box Crabs. NOAA considers the crabs an “underutilized species” with tasty meat in the claws and legs. While commonly caught as bycatch, they rarely show up at the market. That’s where farmers market fish purveyors like Cape Seafood and Provisions come into the picture.

“We take it all,” Rathbone said. “It’s not on us to say ‘hey, go get us this.’ It’s the opposite.”

That means with cool temperatures and unpredictable weather in the winter and spring, customers should look for shellfish over what Rathbone calls “the big, sexy sportfish.”

Or even better, Rathbone encourages her customers to try something new, like Ocean Whitefish, a light, flaky fish that works great in ceviche. Cape Seafood also stocks smoked sturgeon, salmon, black cod, and mackerel throughout the year. You can find them at the Saturday downtown market or at their brick and mortar location in West Hollywood.

Either place, Rathbone hopes you will linger and learn a little more about the fish that is destined for your plate.

“A lot of what we do is education and addressing ‘fish fear,’” Rathbone said. “Honestly, when you have fish that’s 48 hours out of the water you can’t go wrong. My go-to is salt, pepper, oil, in a pan. Get comfortable with it. Enjoy yourself. It’s very tasty.”

Rathbone got involved with sustainable seafood after getting her master’s degree in Marine Fisheries Management from the University of California Santa Barbara. Then, she decided to get her hands dirty and spend the next year working on a fishing boat. A few years ago, she founded Dock to Dish L.A. to connect Los Angeles’ top restaurants with freshly caught fish. Participating chefs rose to the challenging of crafting new dishes based on whatever the ocean provided that week.

Now, customers at Cape Seafood are doing the same.

“It’s fresh and this is how fish should be eaten,” Rathbone said.

High in protein, Omega 3 Fatty Acids and low in fat, Rathbone says her customers have a number of good reasons to buy her assorted catch week after week.

“You get to feel good about it,” she said.

Santa Monica has four weekly farmers markets including the Wednesday Downtown market on Arizona Avenue between 4th and Ocean from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., the Saturday Downtown market on Arizona Avenue between 4th and 2nd Streets from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., the Saturday Virginia Ave. Park market at 2200 Virginia Avenue from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., and the Sunday Main Street market at 2640 Main Street from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press