Pacific Herring Regulations Questioned In Bay Area

Pacific herring photo by user OpenCage/Wikimedia

Pacific herring aren’t one of San Francisco Bay’s most sexy aquatic residents, but as the California Department of Fish and Wildlife says:

“Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii) supports a historically and culturally important fishery in California, particularly in San Francisco Bay. It is also a critically important forage species for a wide suite of predators, including seabirds, marine mammals, and commercially and recreationally important fisheries.”

There is a bit of a dispute going on in they Bay Area about regulations for Pacific herring. Here’s local fisherman and guest columnist Alastair Bland with more in the Marin Independent Journal:

A herring war is about to begin. Local commercial fishermen and state biologists have proposed tight restrictions on recreational harvest of Pacific herring, which gather in thick masses in San Francisco Bay each winter to spawn and are the focus of a small industry that supplies a boutique roe market in Japan.

The region’s herring population is considered healthy and is conservatively managed, and overfishing is not generally a concern. The commercial fishing fleet is allowed to take five percent of the estimated herring biomass — what is generally considered a very safe and sustainable limit. However, there are no regulations over recreational take, which has some fishermen and biologists concerned that too many fish are being taken.

I believe these worries are unfounded. The commercial fleet takes an average of more than 1,000 tons of herring every year from San Francisco Bay, at least in the last decade, while my own rough estimates suggest recreational fishermen, who primarily use hand thrown cast nets, catch less than 200 tons.

Still, stern opposition to existing recreational fishing emerged at a recent public meeting in Sausalito, where multiple commercial fishermen expressed concern that recreational fishermen are taking more than their fair share of herring. When a fishery biologist named Sarah Valencia, who works with a private consulting firm, announced from the podium that state officials were considering imposing a 50-pound daily bag limit on recreational fishermen, commercial fisherman Chris Cameron objected that such a restriction was not restrictive enough.

“It should be one bucket,” he responded from the back of the small auditorium.

Bland had a bit of a snippy exchange with the commercial fisherman during the meeting, then defended recreational fishermen.

Some recreational fishermen — myself included — feel one bucket per day is a stingy suggestion. That’s mainly because the opportunities to throw nets for herring, which often spawn in deep water, far from shore or otherwise out of reach of shore-based fishermen, are generally few and far between. Individuals with busy work schedules or family lives are further restricted, and for them there may be only one chance, if any, to go herring fishing each winter.