Latest Report: Herring Back in Bay Area Waters

San Francisco’s bays are brimming with herring, a welcome sight after the fishery collapsed four years ago, according to the latest report by the Food & Environment Reporting Network for the San Francisco Chronicle. As The Chronicle’s Peter Fimrite reported on Jan. 24, warm water and lack of food caused a catastrophic population decline and, in 2009, forced the state to close the season. As a result of the return of the herring, reporter Maria Finn writes that chefs are now featuring herring prominently on their menus.

“So the return of the herring run is cause for celebration — and offers a chance to help save the fish by eating them,” Finn reports. “Environmental scientists say that instead of feeding herring (and other ‘forage fish,’ such as sardines and anchovies) to farmed fish in the form of fish meal, we should eat them ourselves.”

“We use local herring to educate ourselves and our customers about the bay,” said Curtis DiFede, co-owner and chef at Oenotri Restaurant in Napa tells Finn. “Our local herring is not as fatty as from the North Pacific. It’s more mild and lean, and really delicious.”

Until now, Finn explains, most of the herring has been fed to farmed fish in the form of fish meal. However producing 1 pound of farmed salmon takes 3 pounds of wild forage fish, and 1 pound of ranched tuna can take 15 pounds of forage fish to produce.

Finn writes, “Scientists like Geoff Shester of the nonprofit group Oceana argue that eating these small fish, which have short life spans and reproduce quickly, is more environmentally friendly than eating carnivorous farmed fish or large fish that breed later in life, like swordfish and tuna.”

“Everything from humpback whales to crabs rely on these, so we monitor (the herring) closely,” says Thomas Greiner, environmental scientist for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Bay Area chefs believe that if we eat what comes from the bay, it makes us more aware of its health. For more on the local restaurants serving up herring, go here. For the full report on our site, go here.

About Paula Crossfield

Paula is the Managing Editor and a Founding Director of the Food & Environment Reporting Network. She is a founding editor of Civil Eats, a site with over 40 contributors covering sustainability and food. Her reporting has been featured in The Nation, Gastronomica, Index Magazine, The New York Times online and more, and she has been a contributing producer at The Leonard Lopate Show on New York Public Radio. An avid cook and gardener, she currently lives in Oakland.
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