Silver waves of sardines overtake Wharf Two.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Sardine season started July 1—and it looks like this is going to be an epic year.
“Zillions and zillions of sardines,” is how Monterey Harbormaster Steve Scheiblauer put it. “It’s nice to see the wharf coming alive again with fishing.”
Since the West Coast-wide sardine quota took effect, Monterey’s Wharf Two has been wet with slippery silver in the early morning hours.
Overfishing contributed to the sardine collapse that took the canneries out of Cannery Row in the 1950s. But recent research by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute highlights another factor: sardine and anchovy populations flux in response to a 50-year ocean cycle.
“And here we are, 60 years later, with giant biomass,” Scheiblauer says.
Last summer, Monterey Harbor logged about 2,700 tons of sardines, he adds. This year may yield even more.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program classifies sardines as one of the most sustainable seafood choices out there. They’re low on the marine food chain, not overfished, and caught with roundhaul gear that doesn’t tear up marine habitats. They’re also nutritious: high in selenium, vitamin B12, calcium, niacin, phosphorus and omega-3 fatty acids, but low in mercury.
But at less than a nickel per pound, they're still a low-value fishery, usually headed for canning and farmed-fish food. Moss Landing Marine Labs is working to transform it into a more lucrative business, which means convincing restaurants, and their customers, to give the fresh fish a chance at higher-class presentation.
While the bounty lasts, fresh-off-the-dock sardines can be found along Monterey’s waterfront at Cafe Fina (mesquite barbecued), Whaling Station (sauteed and grilled) and Trattoria Paradiso (grilled with marinara). Look for them in other fresh-fare restaurants, and at local farmers markets.
But the feast will be fleeting: The summer sardine season is expected to last only a few weeks, until the West Coast quota is reached.