Petrale Sole and Sand Dabs: Are They Sustainable Seafood?

The Pacific sand dab: sustainable?
Part of today's SF Weekly cover story, "Go Fish," tries to find an answer to that very question. And we take issue with some of what's been purveyed lately as the conventional wisdom on what local fish you should be eating.

In February, San Francisco magazine made a splash with a lengthy story, "The New School of Fish," that examined restaurants' adherence to environmental standards in their choice of fish.

One of the aspects of the story that riled the fishermen and fishmongers to whom we spoke was the assertion that local groundfish, such as petrale sole and sand dabs, are harvested in a destructive way. The dominant commercial catch means for this fish is bottom trawling, or dragging a net across the ocean floor, which in some circumstances can cause damage to underwater habitat.

Petrale sole
Yet in Northern California, trawling for sole and sand dabs takes place in sandy and muddy bottoms, which, while churned up by trawl nets, are not seriously damaged by the practice -- at least not more than they would be in, say, a winter storm.

You might expect fishermen and fishmongers to make this argument -- particularly since both species are popular among San Francisco seafood enthusiasts -- but scientists concur. As John McCosker, chairman of the Department of Aquatic Biology at the California Academy of Sciences, told us: "It's much quicker to recover, because you're not destroying substrate. That kind of fishing is sustainable, as long as you don't overfish."

We ended up including petrale sole and sand dabs on our own list of environmentally responsible choices of local fish. What say you, readers? Can we keep consuming the delicious flesh of these bottom-dwellers with a clean conscience?

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First they vilify, slander, and demean with lies and exaggerations. Then they completely destroy an industry and now somehow, magically, there isn't really a problem after all.The only thing sustainable about the "environmental industry" is the insatiable quest for money that is unrestrained in what it will do and who it will destroy to gain more.


After 25 years of stories about the pillage of the resources of planet, the message is clear; humans are a destructive lot.

Not me you say? Well, as you sit in your air conditioned room, which you drove your fossil fuel car to, pull on your Nikes made in Indonesia and take a pull off your water bottle from Fiji, think about it. The components of your dinner tonight will have arrived on an airplane from Chile or Mexico, maybe even Thailand. And before you you go to bed tonight? Take an inventory of everything in the house that is made in a coal fired China on the other side of the world.

To make us feel better after such a dismal task, let us scapegoat the mythical enemy of the planet-thel commercial fishermen of America. And let us adopt a system and language that incorporates the concept of 'bad fishermen' and 'good fishermen' so that they will be divided conceptually and practically.

I'm sick of it. It was a lie in the beginnings and it still is. The commercial fishermen of America have been responsible stewards of the resource they depend upon for 35 years. You all feel that history began with the appearance of you on the planet. Now that's a problem.

Ernie Koepfcommercial fisherman

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