San Francisco Oil Spill & Our Local Fishing Industry

| November 12, 2007 | 3 Comments
  • 3 Comments

As Stephanie reported on Sunday, the largest casualty to our food chain due to the November 7 San Francisco Oil Spill seems to be the Dungeness Crab season.

As each day passes, more information is learned about the effects of the oil spill. While the focus of the fishing disaster has been on the Dungeness crab — one of the Bay Area’s most well known harvests of the year — the Bay Area also depends on local waters for many other seafood crops. Most notably during this time of year the Bay Area also harvests:

• Mackerel
• Salmon
• Sardines
• Oysters
• Herring
• Squid

Oysters were one of the early victims of this oil spill.

Once oil drifted to the Pt. Reyes National Seashore, it arrived at Drake’s Bay Oyster Company, an oyster farm that provides oysters to many Bay Area customers. Oysters, along with other types of shellfish, eat by filtering water. When that water is contaminated, the shellfish goes bad and is not fit for human consumption. “If we lose that part of the food chain, we’ll lose the next in line,” says Kathy Fosmark, the Co-Chairman of the Alliance of Communities for Sustainable Fisheries, referring to bait fish and krill. According to the San Jose Mercury-News, Drake’s Bay Oyster Company has temporarily closed due to oil contamination.

I spoke to Ms. Fosmark and her husband, Steve Fosmark — an owner/operator and fisherman from Monterey County, on Monday afternoon. “From what I am hearing, this is going to be catastrophic,” stated Mr. Fosmark.

“Fishermen are coming down on the lean side of a salmon year. A lot of the people who salmon fish then do crab,” said Ms. Fosmark, “This is the last thing that they need.”

Herring is the San Francisco Bay’s only commercially fished species. According to one source, a “possible recommendation to not open in December is being considered.” Typically, herring season would be open by December and any delay in that season will mean a hit to the pockets of the fishermen.

Many of the fishermen don’t even know any more than we do at this point. Mr. and Mrs. Fosmark were watching the same news that we have all been watching for the past few days, waiting to hear their fates from press conferences and the Associated Press and local news stations.

The frustration among fishermen is palpable. While news reports are of successful beach clean-ups and oil wrangling, the fishermen are frustrated that the real story of the effect on the environment and the fishing industry is not being told. “Excuse me but I must go puke my guts out,” stated one anonymous email from a fisherman.

Chances that the average Bay Area consumer will notice a difference in their fish counter are slim. “We get oysters from all up and down the coast,” said Brian from Swan Oyster Depot on Monday. He went on to say that they had to change their source from Drake’s Bay to other oyster companies from farther afield this week. “But we’re always going to have oysters.”

I selfishly asked about the local anchovies and sardines, as they are my most common purchase from Swan Oyster Depot. Brian told me, “the anchovies and sardines come from the Monterey area, and as far as I know that hasn’t been affected.” Swan’s buyers will purchase Dungeness crab from Oregon until the local harvest starts to come in.

The main lesson of the day is that more will be revealed. At this point, we know very little, but the chances that this oil spill could prove catastrophic for local fishermen are high. The main thing that we can do is to keep on top of the story, and support local fishermen with our dollars when they are able to bring healthy, abundant fish to our fish counters.

Updated, 11/13, 3:00 pm:

The Governor has suspended fishing and crabbing until December 1 at the earliest. From the Chronicle article:

“Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued an executive order late this morning suspending all fishing and crabbing for human consumption in areas affected by the Cosco Busan fuel spill until at least Dec. 1. The ban includes all of San Francisco Bay, along with affected shorelines, coastlines and waters of San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Mateo, Solano and Sonoma counties.”

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About the Author ()

"My passion for food began young." I am the editor of the influential website www.EatLocalChallenge.com which encourages readers to support local farmers and producers. I began my personal website, Life Begins at 30, in 2003. I have been published in Edible San Francisco and Fine Cooking, write regularly for Bay Area Bites, Serious Eats, and have been quoted in many nationwide publications. Photography is a passion, and I have had photos printed in National Geographic Traveler and Travel + Leisure. I contributed to a Williams-Sonoma cookbook: Cooking from the Farmers' Market, which was released in February 2010. I live in San Francisco, California and can often be found at local farmers markets seeking out the best of what's in season and chatting with farmers.
  • Ellen

    this is so tragic

  • Marc

    A class action lawsuit by the commercial fishers against the shipping company seems like a good idea, but I bet it would be years before they got a dime.

    It seems like something else is needed, like a federal or state trust fund that is filled by a tax on the fuel that ships use. In the event of an crisis like this, the fund could make zero interest loans or grants to those affected by the environmental damage until the situation improves.

  • Unofficialski

    I found an great blog through TelstartLogistics.com it is http://gcaptain.com and their blog is written by a ship captain with very smart insight into the incident. -TK