Every winter, a small fleet of commercial fishing boats sets gillnets in the San Francisco Bay. Their target: Pacific herring, which enter the estuary in huge numbers to spawn and are easily caught by the millions. The fishermen fill their holds with herring just yards from the waterfront of downtown San Francisco, where many restaurants serve fresh, locally caught seafood.
But they rarely serve herring. Rather, nearly all the herring caught by commercial fishermen in the bay are ultimately fed to animals, including farm-reared fish. The most valuable part of the herring is the females' roe, which is extracted, cured and eaten in Japan as the delicacy kazunoko.
Now, a few sustainable seafood proponents and commercial fishermen are striving to change this – to divert the stream of herring that enters obscure export markets and turn this little fish into a local culinary star.
Success, however, has been limited.
"We haven't done nearly a good enough job yet of promoting herring as a local, sustainable food source," says Geoff Shester, California campaign director for the marine protection group Oceana. "We live in one of the most progressive, conservation-oriented cities in the country, and virtually no one is utilizing this healthy, sustainable resource that's right in their backyard."
Herring are delicious, with flaky, mild meat and oil that sizzles on their skin when grilled over a flame. The fish may also be pickled, smoked and fried.
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