Foraging For Fish in the San Francisco Bay

| July 19, 2012 | 5 Comments
  • 5 Comments

Kirk Lombard demonstrates the cast at his Saturday morning Coastal Fishing/Foraging Tour.
Kirk Lombard demonstrates the cast at his Saturday morning Coastal Fishing/Foraging Tour.

If all commercial fishermen used the methods of Kirk Lombard, sustainability would be a non-issue. He goes for lesser know species using the most sporting methods possible. He hand-tosses a net, Hawaiian style, for smelt, he poke-poles for monkeyface eel, and catches red crab with a fishing pole and snare. He shares his maritime adventures and knowledge of the bays edible intertidal zone in his “Sea Forager Tours.”

On the Saturday morning that I gathered with 20 some other people near the lighthouse on Yacht Road in the Marina neighborhood of San Francisco. He warned us early on that the Advil he had taken that morning might wear off at any moment. The previous week he had repeatedly buried fish hooks into his hands, and then, when deep diving into mudflat after horse neck clams, he had infected the wounds.

Kirk Lombard shows students how they could survive a catastrophe by foraging seawalls.
Kirk Lombard shows students how they could survive a catastrophe by foraging seawalls.

But he powered through the pain and showed people edible limpets that “taste like abalone” and warned them that they “must be willing to risk their lives for them, as they were gathered where waves crashed.” He baited up a crab snare with squid and showed how to fish for them—only red crabs are keepers in the bay, but like most fishermen, he wasn’t going to reveal his prime fishing spots, only his wisdom on how to catch the critters.

A Dungeness crab that is legal size-wise, but you can’t keep these crabs if they are caught in the bay.
A Dungeness crab that is legal size-wise, but you can’t keep these crabs if they are caught in the bay.

While demonstrating casting for crab and telling anecdotes and natural history of the regions waterways that needed a bit of fact checking—like there are so many sea lions because there are no natural predators in the area. Um, great white sharks? But fishermen are known for their spirit of rugged adventure, and Lombard has this in spades.

Kirk explains how you want to remove a horseneck clam from the mud in “all its phallic glory” as he put it.
Kirk explains how you want to remove a horseneck clam from the mud in “all its phallic glory” as he put it.

He is the only fisherman commercially harvesting monkeyface eel, which is labor intensive and not lucrative. He claims it, “keeps me in beer money,” as well, very few fishermen go after red crabs in the bay, as he does, because they “will break you fingers with their claws and admittedly, there’s not a huge market.” He also takes nets out and fishes for surf smelt with a hand tossed net and night smelt with an A-frame based on Native American fishing methods.

Kirk shows the A-Frame fishing net he uses to catch smelt.
Kirk shows the A-Frame fishing net he uses to catch smelt.

He has yet to be granted a commercial fishing license for using his hand tossed net for herring fishing, and hopes to soon as he is helping to bring back these underappreciated forage fish to restaurants in San Francisco.

Developing our tastes for these fish would also be a boon to sustainability. Small or forage fish in Northern California include squid, anchovies, smelt, sardines and herring. Herring is the last commercial fishery in the San Francisco Bay, and these fish are used exclusively for their roe, which is shipped to Japan. The bodies are used as bait or sold to fishmeal companies.

While the fisheries in California are managed, reports are coming out from other regions in the world that these small fish, which are a critical part of the ocean’s food chain are being wiped out. These fish are primarily being made into fishmeal.

The tour culminates with an exciting demonstration poke poling for monkeyface eels.
The tour culminates with an exciting demonstration poke poling for monkeyface eels.

According to the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force report that was published this year, 90 percent of forage fish are used for agriculture, fish farms and nutritional supplements. According to their report, in 2006, 88.5 were made into fish oil and 68.2 percent of fishmeal was used by the aquaculture industry, i.e., salmon farms. When feeding farmed salmon, 3 to 10 pounds of these small forage fish are needed for every one pound of farmed salmon that’s produced. So instead of eating farmed salmon, we would all be better off if we ate these little fish.

More and more, innovative chefs in the San Francisco Bay area are serving up forage fish and adventurous diners are in for a treat.

NOPA in San Francisco serves Fried Little Fish, dill, and chili lime aioli. (These “Little Fish” are smelt caught by Kirk!)

Poggio in Sausalito is serving bruschetta with marinated sardines and a pea and mint puree on bread cooked over coals. As well, they are serving calamari over squid ink pasta.

Bar Tartine in San Francisco has herring escabeche on the menu.

Comal in Berkeley has a chilled calamari salad with marinated butter beans, roasted pasilla peppers and zucchini.

Bouche in San Francisco is serving sardines with grapefruit, mint and marinated vegetables.

sardines with grapefruit, mint and marinated vegetables by Bouche Photo: Quan Pham Photography
Sardines with grapefruit, mint and marinated vegetables by Bouche. Photo: Quan Pham Photography

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Category: bay area, Bay Area Bites Food + Drink, DIY, foraging, urban homesteading, san francisco, sustainability, environment, climate change

About the Author ()

Maria Finn lives on a floating houseboat in Sausalito, where she grows a rooftop container garden, despite the salty winds. She’s the author of the book, “A Little Piece of Earth, How to Grow Your Own Food in Small Spaces” (Rizzoli, 2010), and the memoir, “Hold Me Tight and Tango Me Home” (Algonquin Books, 2010) , which is in development for a television series with Fox Studios. Her novel-in-progress, “Sea Legs and Fish Nets,” loosely based on her experiences working on an all female fishing boat in Alaska, is a finalist for the Pen/Bellwether Prize, founded by Barbara Kingsolver for novels that address issues of social justice. She writes for Sunset Magazine, Afar Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. Visit her website at mariafinn.com and follow her on Twitter @mariafinn.
  • bubba

    FORAGING for fish?! isn’t it just called “fishing”?

  • Smartymarkety

    To update a point contained within the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force report referred to above, please note that the conversion rate from whole wild feed fish to whole farmed salmon as substantiated by IFFO (the International Fishmeal & Fish Oil Organsiation), known as the FIFO – fish in: fish out for salmon
    was 1.5:1 in 2010 and falling in 2012. Therefore 1.5 kilos of forage fish are used to produce each kilo of farmed salmon. The
    calculations behind these ratios are detailed in the papers referenced below and they also explain why the IFFO calculated FIFO ratios differ from ratios for salmon calculated by Authors Tacon & Metain (2008) and Naylor et al (2009).

    Author
    Dr Andrew Jackson of IFFO published in
    Aquaculture Europe (2009)

    Authors
    Jackson and Shepherd published by OECD (2010)

    Authors Shepherd and Jackson at the 6th World
    Fisheries Congress in Edinburgh (2012)

  • http://twitter.com/MariaFinn Maria Finn

    Kirk calls his tours “Sea Foraging” as I think that leaves them open to more possibilities, like gathering seaweed and mussels, as well as catching fish.

  • http://twitter.com/MariaFinn Maria Finn

    To Smartymarkety:

    This ratio claimed by the International Fishmeal & Fish
    Oil Organsiation makes their fishmeal and fish oil industry sound less
    environmentally egregious than is generally reported by virtually all
    independent researchers. In his recently published book, “The Ocean of Life”
    Dr. Callum Roberts claims a ratio of five pounds of wild caught fish to produce
    one pound of farmed salmon. He also makes the claim, “…aquaculture will likely
    swallow all the world’s fishmeal by 2050.”

    As well, the on International Fishmeal & Fish Oil
    website’s section on “Marine Resources and Sustainability” (http://www.iffo.net/default.asp?contentID=718)
    page, you have a graph showing where most of your forage fish come from. It
    seems that anchovies from Peru and Jack Mackerel from Chile are your top
    suppliers. Please refer to this Investigative Report by a consortium of
    journalist titled, “Free-For-all decimates fish stocks in the southern Pacific”
    http://www.iwatchnews.org/node/7900/)
    that details how the jack mackerel stocks in Peru and Chile declined 63% in
    five years due to the fish meal and fish oil industry.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_WMOQB4BO2IT5V2OKPG6PXTOTVM Anonymous

    remember rule number one of upselling to hipsters, if you give something a new name you can get more attention & money.