Now, don’t get jump to conclusions, but the herring I caught was off third st., by the ballpark in SF. Why is that not gross you ask? Herring live most of their lives in the open ocean, and come into the bay only a couple times a year to spawn. I’d never seen it before myself, but it’s pretty amazing. Early one morning I got a call from Kirk, local fish fanatic, and the leader of our fishing tours. I needed to be down at third street within an hour. So I went. I’d been waiting.
I got down there in 30, to a small clutch of fisherman throwing nets. It was crazy. The water was literally rippling with fish. Every couple seconds one would actually jump out of the water onto the shore. It was a frenzy. All the rocks along the coast were coated small golden herring eggs. According to Kirk, the herring in caught in the SF Bay are prized above all others.
Herring roe is very popular in Japan, but only our herring have golden roe, as opposed to the grey/off white roe found elsewhere. So I had to get in. After a brief lesson on net casting (it’s all in the wrist), I was in. Flick of the wrist, cast of the net, 10 seconds to let it sink to the bottom, then a spurt of pulling, and I had 100 fish. It was crazy. Every time you’d throw in a net, you’d come out with 100-200 fish. 20-30-50 lbs at a time. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was the anti-fishing. Fishing is usually a waiting game. Set up, hang out with a pole in your hand for 6 hours, then if you’re lucky, you’ll catch something. Not herring. Herring jump into your net. They know how excited you are, and aim to please. They want to be caught….ok, I realize these are all ridiculous things to say, but when your there, they all seem true.
After 20 minutes, I had 100 lbs of fish. I had every intention of using everything I caught, and knew even that much would be a full day of cleaning (it ended up taking me and 3 volunteers 5 1/2 hrs to gut and freeze all the fish).
100 lbs seems like a lot, but in the grand scheme of the bio mass of herring, it is not even a drop in the bucket. Most animals and seafood that are recreationally caught are given limits. The amount one person is allowed to catch in any given day or season. There are no such limits on herring. The sheer mass of fish creates a situation where it would be almost impossible for a person with a net to make a dent. Commercial boats do have limits, which are usually in the realm of 6-10 tons/year. These are set by fish and game every year, by measuring the biomass (how many fish there are), and setting the total amount allowed to catch at 10% of the total.
Overall a great experience. Each female herring (and most of the ones we caught were), had a little sac of vibrant golden roe. We cured the roe in salt, and froze the fish (we’d use them later as breaded/fried herring, and the roe would go on top of oysters). The sad thing about herring is that no one in America really wants to eat it. It’s not a trendy fish, so the vast majority that are caught get their roe removed, and then are turned into fertilizer. No good. We’ll hope to change that by making them delicious, here’s a recipe:
Cast iron deep sided skillet (for frying)
6 Cups frying oil (canola, or if you’re bold, pork or duck fat)
3 mixing bowls
4 Cups flour
Breadcrumbs (panko works)
6 egg yolks
10 herring-gutted and scaled
Lemon Aioli (here’s a recipe, or you can use mayo with lemon added)
Start heating oil in cast iron (make sure to leave a couple inches at the top of the pan) Lay out the 3 bowls, with eggs (whisk to combine) , flour, breadcrumbs each in their separate but equal bowls. Wash and pat your fish dry. When the oil is up to temp (375), start your assembly line. Dip the fish in 1.flour 2.eggs 3.breadcrumbs 4.oil. Simple simple. Fry until golden brown, don’t crowd the pan or the oil temp will come down making for soggy not crisp fish, remove to paper towels. Serve with lemon aioli and some watercress or frisee. Save a delicious fish from the fertilizer heap.