In his 1945 novel Cannery Row, John Steinbeck described the Monterey fishery:
“In the morning when the sardine fleet has made a catch, the purse seiners waddle heavily into the bay blowing their whistles.… The whole street rumbles and groans and screams and rattles while the silver rivers of fish pour in out of the boats and the boats rise higher and higher in the water until they are empty.”
This bounty was overfished.
In those days, the mentality tended toward fishing harder when the fish seemed to be dwindling, which drove their numbers down further. In the United States, the canned sardine industry peaked in the 1950s and has been in decline since.
One reason is because there weren’t enough fish left. The sardines were almost wiped out, and people quit eating them. Fortunately, in California these fish are making a comeback.
Sardines are some of the healthiest food you can eat.
These omega-3 powerhouses are one of the only foods available that contain co-enzyme Q10, which is great for warding off cardiovascular disease. They have lots of vitamin D that helps prevent certain cancers, their B12 helps support strong bones, and they are packed with protein.
Since sardines are low on the food chain, they have virtually no contaminants, like mercury. Sardines and other small forage fish like anchovies, herring, and mackerel are being overfished in areas of the world. But this is not due to our dinner plates, but rather they are primarily being made into fishmeal.
According to the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force, 90 percent of forage fish are used for agriculture, fish farms, and nutritional supplements. According to their report, 68.2 percent of fishmeal was used by the aquaculture industry in 2006.
So here’s the solution: Bypass fish like farmed salmon and ranched tuna that eat forage fish (in the form of fishmeal) and instead eat these little fish yourself.
For people who don’t have the time or inclination to catch their own, many innovative chefs are serving up forage fish. At fish markets, these varieties are often the cheapest of the bunch, costing around $3 a pound. The more often I eat, them, the more I have found myself developing cravings for sardines grilled over wood and drizzled with olive oil and a burst of fresh lemon or from a can and served on toast with goat cheese and wild arugula.
Maria Finn is an author based in Sausalito, CA. This article has been adapted by her recent TED Book “The Whole Fish, How Adventurous Eating of Seafood Can Make you Healthier, Smarter, and Help Save the Ocean.” Link: . She is also author of the memoir “Hold Me Tight and Tango Me Home” and the gardening book, “A Little Piece of Earth.” Visit her website at www.mariafinn.com. You can find her on Twitter @mariafinn.
Editor: Elysha Anderson