The Last Herring Fishers

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In September, San Francisco’s commercial herring fishermen were told that this year, for the first time ever, their season has been canceled. Herring are disappearing from the Bay, and no one knows why. Possible causes: El Nino, a 2007 oil spill, overfishing. Whatever the reason, the Fish and Game commission says herring need time to recover. But herring fishermen say their jobs–and a 100-year old Bay tradition–are being tossed away.

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Numbers and Links:

Ups and Downs of the Herring Fleet

$3174
Price of herring per ton in 1995 season, during Japanese craze for kazunoko–herring roe. Highest price in past 20 years. Source: California Department of Fish and Game.
>100
Active herring boats on the water each season in the late 1990s. Source: San Francisco Chronicle, Feb ’06.
11,496
Tons of herring landed in 1996 season–biggest catch on record. Source: California Department of Fish and Game.
$946
Price per ton in 2008 season. Source: California Department of Fish and Game..
58,000
Tons of bunker fuel spilled by container ship Cosco Busan into the Bay in 2007. Draft of federal study on Cosco Busan’s impact on Bay herring.
507
Tons landed in 2008 season. Smallest catch on record: 145 tons in 2004. Source: California Department of Fish and Game.
20
Estimated number of active herring boats, according to Ernie Koepf, a Bay herring fisherman for over 30 years.

Timeline: From Gold Rush to Zero Season

San Francisco’s herring fleet is over 150 years old. Its fortunes have been linked to local problems, like the 2007 Cosco Busan oil spill, and faraway factors, like the Japanese market for herring roe. Click on the dates to learn about the ebb and flow of this profession.

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3 Comments

  1. I’m really glad to see his kind of coverage (both content and format) of an important issue. I hope you continue to bring history to the site. I’d like to see some more discussion about reasons for decline of the herring industry. I recommend an important book, “The Fisherman’s Problem,” as a resource on this issue. Thanks for this reporting.

  2. ernie koepf

    decline and ascent of the herring resource doe not conform to the premises in ‘the fihermen’ problem’. this recent collapse does mirror the problems related to a lack of fresh water in california and the delta;critical for survival of the young of the year herring.

    the book has not been yet written on the detrinental effect of a self-reinforcing and insulated media message that speaks false and half truths into existense -into the realm of accepted realty in the public concuiousnes.

    this doc convey the depth of human tendernes when loss enters your life. congratulation tasneem

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