[env-trinity] New York Times December 11, 2009

Byron Leydecker bwl3 at comcast.net
Fri Dec 11 11:00:52 PST 2009

In Birthplace of Local Food, Fish Imports Take Over the Menu 


Josh Haner/The New York Times

Paul Johnson has worked at the Monterey Fish Market in San Francisco for 30
years and has witnessed a dramatic downward shift in the local supply of

Top of Form


Published: December 11, 2009 

Tadich Grill, San Francisco’s oldest seafood restaurant, now serves farmed
.html?inline=nyt-classifier> salmon flown in from Scotland. Sam’s Grill &
Seafood, which also dates to the Gold Rush, features shrimp from the Gulf of
Mexico and Alaskan halibut.Skip to next paragraph


The San Francisco region is where the locavore movement got its name. And
decades before restaurants like Chez Panisse in Berkeley were recommending
their local leeks, the establishments near San Francisco’s wharves took
pride in their fresh, local sand dabs and petrale.

These days, fish flown in from around the world is more likely to be on
offer. The change began gradually, but has recently sped up. Data from the
Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, a federal advisory group, reveal
the cumulative effect: a 71 percent drop in commercial fishing revenue along
the north-central California coast since 1990. 

The effects are everywhere, seen in the number of idle fishermen or those
who have left the profession altogether — membership in the Pacific Coast
Federation of Fishermen’s Associations is down by two-thirds in 15 years —
and the fish markets filled with Vietnamese catfish and Mexican spiny
e=nyt-classifier> lobster. 

Fish from local bays has been “one of the last local foods to go,” said
Jessica Prentice, a Berkeley chef known for coining the word “locavore.” She
added: “Seafood was one of the few things, well into the industrial age,
that people associated with place. If you’re on a particular coast, or bay,
or lake, you typically want to eat the seafood that’s fresh and local.”
These days in the Bay Area, that means Dungeness crab in the winter and
precious little else.

With beloved local petrale scarce for the past three months, Andrew
Carvalho, the head chef at Sam’s, has had to make do with sea bream from

Not long ago, said Larry Collins, a San Francisco hook-and-line fisherman,
“we fished salmon in the summertime, crab in the wintertime and rock
ex.html?inline=nyt-classifier> cod whenever we needed to make the mortgage.
Now we fish crab in the wintertime and scramble in the summertime.”

San Francisco’s situation is part of a national phenomenon. The National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported last year that more than
three-fourths of the fish Americans eat comes from other countries, mostly
China. Yet the trend has special resonance around San Francisco. Robert E.
Ross, executive director of the California Fisheries and Seafood Institute,
a trade group, estimated that Bay Area residents eat, on average, about
double the amount of fish consumed annually by most other Americans.

Many diners recall when local seafood — salmon, red snapper, abalone — was
abundant. “I think about it all the time,” said Paul Johnson, the chief
executive of the Monterey Fish Market, which supplies up to five million
pounds of fish a year to 150 regional restaurants, including Chez Panisse
and the Googleplex in Mountain View.

“In the fall when crab season comes around, and the boilers are steaming and
all the guys are coming around with the fresh crabs, it just makes you sad
to realize that this is the last major fishery we have left,” he said. 

The decline and fall of California’s fisheries is an intricate tale.
Eighteenth-century Pacific Coast explorers described a paradise teeming with
life. “No country is more abundant in fish and game of every description,”
said the French naval officer Jean-François de Galaup, who mapped the
Pacific Coast in 1786. Two centuries of robust harvests followed, with
occasional off-years.

Now off-years are the norm. Still, the drop in local harvests doesn’t
precisely reflect the decline of fish in the sea. The confluence of
expanding global markets and more assertive local controls has produced
dramatic change. One fishery after another petered out in the wild, and
regulators curtailed fishing to preserve species. As with other
environmental problems, every person with a stake in the Bay Area’s seafood
decline has a villain of choice. 

Salmon fishermen tend to blame the decline on inland water users, like farms
and developers, who, they say, diverted water needed for spawning new
generations of fish. Scientists suggest that a warming ocean has put the
fishes’ food supply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Others blame
mismanagement. Similar finger-pointing is evident around other wounded

Wild abalone was one of the first local seafoods to vanish, after state
officials closed depleted fisheries in 1996. In 2002, trawling for rockfish
— the bottom-dweller often called “red snapper” and used in the spicy stew
cioppino — was barred on much of the Pacific Coast. In the past two years,
fishing bans multiplied as salmon and herring grew scarce.

In all cases, the regulators responded to evidence of sharp declines in
local species. But many local fishermen, who have sustained staggering
economic losses, feel the actions of state and federal officials have been

 “In California, we have the least exploited fisheries in the world, but the
toughest regulations,” complained Zeke Grader, executive director of the
Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. At the Monterey Fish
Market, Mr. Johnson’s 30-year career has spanned the most dramatic downward
shift in local supply. When he began, he said, he was importing only about
30 percent of his fish from outside of California. Now, he said, the figure
is closer to 80 percent. 

While industry insiders are all too aware of the change in Bay Area menus,
diners may have been slow to grasp it. “People still don’t get it,” said
George Leonard, a marine biologist at the Santa Cruz office of the Ocean
Conservancy, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization.

“Restaurants will go to great lengths to make it seem like the fish is
local,” he said. “They’ll advertise the ‘fresh catch of the day,’ and half
the time, it’s farmed fish from halfway around the world.”

The illusion of fresh local fish became harder to maintain after a 2005 law
obliged vendors to label wares by country of origin. This has combined with
the trend to advertise the pedigree of foods, like the “Bolinas black cod”
at Chez Panisse.

CleanFish, a San Francisco-based supplier of “sustainable seafood,” boasts
its wild and “sustainably farmed” fish, like the “Carolina Mahi-Mahi” and
the Loch Duarte salmon featured at Tadich Grill. Yet its use of air-shipped
and farmed fish rankles some environmentalists. “When you put fresh fish in
an airplane,” Mr. Leonard said, “all bets are off,” 

The Monterey Bay Aquarium includes all farmed fish on its “red list” of fish
to be avoided, citing concerns like the discharge of waste and parasites
from farms. The founder of CleanFish, Tim O’Shea, said this ignored
differences among the farmers. 

A few chefs, including
ndex.html?inline=nyt-per> Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, vigorously advocate
serving local seafood whenever possible — “We collected our own mussels from
a legal zone recently. Divine!” Ms. Waters recounted in an e-mail message.
Still, she occasionally resorts to “sustainable” shrimp from New Orleans.

While the globalization of fish may seem unstoppable, some dream of San
Francisco seafood’s resurgence. Mr. Johnson of the Monterey Fish Market
foresaw encouraging trends over the next few years, if federal strictures
help rebuild rockfish populations. 

Recently, environmental advocates took heart in the state’s decision in
August to protect 155 square miles of ocean, permanently banning
professional fishing in reserves covering 11 percent of California coastal

The decision, to take effect early next year, has prompted complaints from
struggling fishermen, yet it is meant to preserve habitat crucial in
rebuilding species like rockfish and abalone. 

“We can no longer treat the ocean and its fish and wildlife as an
all-you-can eat buffet,” said Kaitilin Gaffney, the Pacific ecosystem
program director for the Ocean Conservancy. “But the ocean is pretty
resilient. If we allow nature to restore herself, she will.”




Byron Leydecker, JcT

Chair, Friends of Trinity River

PO Box 2327

Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327

415 383 4810 land

415 519 4810 cell

 <mailto:bwl3 at comcast.net> bwl3 at comcast.net

 <mailto:bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org> bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org

 <http://fotr.org/> http://www.fotr.org 




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