Fresh Herring Fishery off to Slow Start

herringbarrel1.jpg
Scarce so far
Last month we reported on a change to state regulations that will allow fresh herring to be caught and sold locally. For decades, all the herring caught by San Francisco's commercial fishermen have been stripped for their roe, which is consumed in Japan as a delicacy called kazunoko.

It's been about a month since the relatively small-scale season for fresh herring -- only 10 permits to catch the fish were issued -- opened. We checked in today with Pier 45 Seafood President Mel Wickliffe, who is partnering with fisherman Ernie Koepf to sell herring. Koepf was instrumental in pushing through the revision to California Department of Fish and Game regulations allowing for a local herring market.

Well, fishing is an unpredictable business. At present it looks like the fresh-herring business in San Francisco is lacking one necessary element: herring.

"They're fish, and you have to go fishing for them," Wickliffe says. "There's been fish in the bay, but they're proving to be rather difficult for [Koepf] to catch at the moment."

Wickliffe adds, "There's been demand." Just this week, he said, he spoke to one restaurateur who would like to receive a couple hundred pounds of fresh herring per week when they become available. The season runs through March.

Tom Worthington of Monterey Fish Market, another wholesaler who had expressed interest in fresh herring, likewise says that he's not aware of any herring having been caught for the new local fishery. He too says that demand for the fish is high.

"We've been talking to chefs. Chefs are excited about the idea. Everyone's looking forward to it. We're just waiting for the fish to show up," Worthington says.

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