Fresh Herring to Be Sold in SF This Winter

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fresh herring
Ever wonder where the many tons of fish landed by San Francisco Bay's commercial herring fleet throughout the winter go?

There's a growing market for local and sustainable seafood, but the bay's herring -- an inexpensive fish that lends itself to a variety of preparations -- doesn't end up at the wholesalers that line the piers along Fisherman's Wharf. Instead, the fish are processed for their roe, which is consumed as a delicacy in Japan.

That's about to change. Over the summer, local herring fisherman Ernie Koepf was instrumental in getting California Department of Fish and Game regulations revised to allow for a market from November through March for fresh herring. (The prior regulations, geared to the roe fishery, allowed only a token quota: fresh herring could be landed for only two weeks early in the season, before the fish are abundant.) The department will issue up to 10 permits, each allowing a boat to land up to 1,000 pounds of herring per day for the fresh-fish market.

Koepf and his partner in the endeavor, Mel Wickliffe of wholesaler Pier 45 Seafood, say they hope herring will meet swelling demand for locally sourced and ecologically sound seafood. "I am aware of the growing demand for organic, local, healthy food," Koepf says. "I hope that [herring] will take its place alongside other local seafood products. I've eaten it smoked, I've eaten it grilled, I've had it salted, I've had it pickled. It's a good fish."

Tom Worthington of Monterey Fish Market, which operates out of San Francisco and Berkeley, says he has also been in touch with fishermen who will supply his outlet with local herring.

So will the fish sell? Will home cooks and chefs add fresh herring to their menus? It's an open question at this point, but it looks like the Bay Area's herring fans will now have other options to get their fix besides the canned and jarred offerings of Russian delis.

Click here for the full story in the Nov. 16, 2011 issue of SF Weekly.

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