5 Things that Set Monterey Bay Seafood Apart!
The Monterey Bay isn’t just exceptional, it’s unique. The Monterey Canyon is the largest underwater canyon in the world; it begins just off Moss Landing. Through the process of upwelling, nutrient-rich cold water rises from the depths nearshore. Not only does it contribute to the region’s mild climate, but it creates the perfect habitat for a vibrant ecosystem from krill and bait fish to large predators and everything in between.
With rocky cliffs and rolling dunes lining the shores of the bay, estuaries, rocky underwater pinnacle and flat soft bottoms, the varied geology of the bay creates the perfect habitat for biodiversity.
More than 525 species of fish, 180 species of sea birds and 36 species of marine mammals call the Monterey Bay home. Kelp forests hugging the shores provide protected habitat for sea otters and fish.
Within this biologically diverse web live many species we humans have long sought for a healthy, nourishing meal. Small schooling fish like sardines, anchovies and mackerel and bottom fish such as halibut, sablefish, rock fishes and sand dabs have lured fishermen to the bay to provide local seafood and support the local economy.
Fishing has been an integral part of the culture and the economy of the Monterey Bay area since the Ohlone first inhabited the land thousands of years ago. After, the Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese and Italian immigrants all contributed to the fishing culture of the area and have a lasting impact to this day.
The rise and fall of the sardine fishery in the first half of the 20th century looms large in the history of Monterey Bay fishing. The collapse of groundfish stocks in the late 1990s and early 2000s also had lasting impacts on the working waterfronts in the region. However, the hard times fishermen on the Monterey Bay have experienced in the past have not been for naught. They spurred the evolution of fishing practices with the development of a science-based approach to fisheries management and harvesting techniques, that have had exciting environmental results.
No seafood commercially harvested or farmed from the Monterey Bay is red-listed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, and many are a Green “best choice.” Many local restaurants are Seafood Watch partners, too. Rest assured, if the fish you see on the menu at a local restaurant or on ice at your neighborhood fish counter was caught in the Monterey Bay, it was harvested sustainably.
From a declared federal disaster in 2000, the groundfish stocks in Monterey Bay are now fully rebuilt with 14 species certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council. These species include: Dover sole, petrale sole, sablefish, ling cod and an array of rockfish.
Many fishermen on the Monterey Bay are ecological stewards working to bolster the local economy while ensuring the viability of commercial fishing in the region’s rich waters for generations to come. For example, local fishermen are key partners in the Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust’s Lost Gear Recovery project, aimed at removing lost crab gear from the bay to prevent entanglements with marine life. Local fishermen must also abide by some on the strictest, most thorough regulations fishermen face anywhere in the world.
Finally, there’s the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the largest of the 13 underwater parks protected by the federal government spanning 300 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge to south of Big Sur. The national marine sanctuary focuses on protecting and conserving marine habitats and ecosystems while balancing sustainable activities, including commercial fishing, for future generations.
They’re #1 because when it comes down to it, you wouldn’t be eating healthy, sustainable seafood caught from the waters you live by if it weren’t for the men and women who go out to sea and bring the bounty of their harvest to shore every day. They’re your friends and neighbors whom you may already know or have yet to meet.
Commercial fishing in the Monterey Bay creates hundreds of jobs and brings ten of millions of dollars of economic output to the region.
But fishermen still need your help and there’s no better way to support local, sustainable fisheries than by buying locally caught fish. Around 90 percent of seafood eaten in the United States is imported, often with environmentally destructive practices, opaque supply chains, and nefarious labor practices.
Unfortunately, it’s often easier to buy a fillet of tilapia from the other side of the globe than it is to find a fillet of ling cod caught in local waters.
The Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust is working to change this by making it easier for Central Coast residents to eat local while introducing them to the men and women who bring fresh seafood to the docks every day.
Photo credits: Monterey Canyon - David Fierstein (c) 2000 MBARI; Fishermen - David Hills (c) 2018.