San Francisco Bay Herring on the Menu

San Francisco Bay herring are small, versatile fish beloved by birds, sea lions, porpoises, and increasingly, local chefs and home cooks. Herring has an important place in the food chain for many creatures here in the Bay Area, and it’s special because it’s the last remaining commercial fishery in San Francisco Bay.

If you want to learn more about herring and sample some delectable herring dishes by local chefs, join Save The Bay in Sausalito on Sunday, February 9 for the 2nd Annual Sausalito Herring Festival. There will be music, food, local fishermen, and fun for all.  Make sure to stop by our photo booth, say hi, and have your picture taken with one of our Bay Creatures.

We’re thrilled to be able to celebrate herring season here in the Bay because we almost lost the fishery entirely a few years ago. But now the herring are back! And the catch is a good one, due in part to the fact that the Bay is cleaner and healthier than it’s been in the last 150 years.

“Living in the Bay Area we are so privileged to have access to an amazing amount of hyper-local fruits, vegetables and livestock”, said Douglas Bernstein, Executive Chef at Fish Restaurant in Sausalito. “I think people are starting to realize that our waters are also a source of an amazing amount of seasonal food stuffs, and at the beginning of each January we have access to a huge, affordable and versatile protein source that is literally visible from our back doors.”

Photo: Revo_1599
Photo: Revo_1599

Besides the pure joy of eating a truly local catch, there are plenty of reasons to add local Bay herring to your diet.

  • They’re good for you—Herring are high in healthy Omega-3 fatty acids and since they are small, short lived fish, they don’t accumulate environmental toxins.
  • They’re tasty and versatile—Herring are small, oily fish with a bold flavor. Think more sardine than sea bass. They lend themselves to any seasoning or cooking method including grilling, smoking, curing, pickling, or broiling.
  • They’re caught sustainably—Small-scale local fishermen net herring with little to no bycatch and no damage to the environment.
  • They’re back after a huge decline—The commercial fishery was closed in 2009 because of low numbers. Herring are on the upswing and still recovering. The quota was raised 30% from last year because of promising population numbers.

By eating Bay herring you’re supporting the future sustainability of the population here in SF Bay. That may seem counter-intuitive, but before herring became a star attraction on local menus, it was mostly fished for its roe, which is dried and shipped to Japan. Strict catch limits keep the herring plentiful for future years, and a strong local market for this delicacy keep our local fishermen in business. The Bay herring season runs roughly November through March.

Where to eat and buy herring: 

Retail: Call ahead for availability
Fish Restaurant in Sausalito has a retail fish counter (see below for restaurant dishes)
Monterey Fish Market in Berkeley
Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco also makes wonderful pickled herring in the deli
Siren SeaSA is a local, sustainable seafood CSA delivered to neighborhood pick-up locations and available through Good Eggs

Restaurants: a sampling of herring dishes recently spotted on local menus. Check menus for current dishes and availability

Fish Restaurant–pickled herring salad with little gems, pink lady apples and mint; pickled herring with shaved red beets, creme fraiche and fried seaweed; creamy potato soup with smoked herring, parsley and caraway; grilled whole herring on a stick served with soft pretzels and house-made mustard
NOPA—fried, pickled herring
Rich Table—marinated herring with bok choy and winter squash
Bar Tartine—pickled herring with creamed onions and sprouted rye
Peko Peko Popup Dinner—deep fried whole with kumquats and shallots
Beauty’s Bagels—pickled herring on bagels with cream cheese

Cooking it yourself? Local cooks recommend pickling and Japanese-style salt grilled herring from Japanese Farm Food. If you’re coming to the herring festival, be sure to try chef Dave Johnson’s herring paella. He’ll smoke the herring lightly and then prepare it in his impressive four-foot paella pans with garlic-tomato rice and lemony gremolata. Chef Dave is owner of Sausalito’s Davey Jones Deli.