Where is your local seafood market? Have no idea? Chances are if you are a seafood lover and a home cook you may have struggled with this problem before.
There doesn’t seem to be any shortage of butcher shops, farmers markets or health food stores these days but even here in San Francisco I find it very difficult to shop for seafood.
Outside of dining in a high end seafood restaurant or purchasing seafood wholesale (the perks of being a professional chef) there really isn’t many local seafood market options in the bay area.
Last month I wrote about my favorite fishmonger in the bay area, Mike Winberg-Lynn. He is my number one trusted source here locally.
His market, Osprey Seafood, in Napa has an amazing selection and is amongst the freshest you can find around here.
What’s great about Mike is he’s been in the business a long time so he has good relationships with the fisherman and really knows his product.
I spoke with him recently regarding a few issues consumers struggle with when buying seafood. Here are his tips on how to become more confidant when selecting seafood….
Farm-raised vs. wild fish
I asked Mike what his opinion was on farm-raised fish. His take on this topic was simply this, “there is not enough wild fish in the world to feed everybody.”
He says “the argument with farmed fish has always been about the practices. The cleanliness, antibiotics, the amount of wild fish needed in order to feed farmed fish, fish swimming in their own shit. These practices took place in the 90s. The industry has evolved since then. They aren’t perfect but they are learning and their practices today are tons better than they were 10 years ago. Right now the ratio that they have to feed is 1-1. That’s 1 pound of wild fish to grow 1 pound of farmed fish. That’s even better than what it is in the wild. I visited a farm in Canada where the tidal flow was so strong and constant that I thought, there’s no way these fish could be swimming in their own shit.”
Although Mike agrees that wild fish is always the best option he admits that in places like the U.S., Norway, Scotland, Canada and Scandinavia they are producing respectable farm raised fish. He warns to stay away from fish farmed in South America where giving fish antibiotics isn’t regulated.
Basically when it comes down to it, if you took away farmed fishing it would tax the wild fisheries way too hard.
Which fish are sustainable to eat.
As you may recall from our last article together, Mike hate’s the word sustainable.
But to answer my question he said, “The United States is deemed sustainable, if you buy domestically or from New Zealand and Australia you can feel good about what you are buying”.
He says, “Every single domestic fishery has a managing group looking at everything it has found. (this is why domestic fisheries are so good). They count the catch to see how much volume they are bringing in so they can know when they have hit a maximum. Last year they were catching a lot of squid and the government stepped in and said that’s enough.
There’s no way to know how much fish is really out there. We can’t count them all, we have methods of maybe counting them but other than salmon, which we have a really good method of finding out how many are out there, we have no clue. Sometimes fish disappear because the water is too warm (like in the case of el nino). If you move 2 or 3 degrees your gonna lose a whole eco system.”
Mike says to stay away from buying fish caught in China and Japan who don’t always follow the rules. And besides shrimp he avoids buying seafood from the gulf of Mexico because of frequent algae blooms due to high heat.
Seafood species found locally in the bay area.
Mike says that around summer and fall you can find rock fish, salmon, ling cod, petrale sole, sand dabs, mackerel and anchovies. Salmon season closes in October.
In March they hold hearings and decide when they are going to open salmon season and which salmon fisheries may be in danger. He explained that, “Salmon live their life in the ocean 5 years, give or take. At the end of that time period they go back up the river they came from to spawn. Certain populations of salmon will decrease. Right now the stress point where we are is the sacramento run. We try to stay away from all the sacramento river fish. As they started their migration back to the river we shut down areas to avoid fishing them. That was in July, no fishing in July because we want to make sure these salmon make it back to the river.
Sardines, anchovies and squid only show up during certain times, so sometimes you might get lucky and sometimes you may not.
Most fish are seasonal meaning we get them just when they appear, like black cod. Its been a great year for black cod, but you will soon see that start to disappear. Albacore, same thing. We see them in the summer and that’s great but then by October they’re gone. But with El Nino everything flips. This year we didn’t hardly see any white sea bass.
Crab season starts mid November and lasts until early summer. There are times when the demonic acid levels are too high and they have to shut down crab season. This year it’s looking good.”
What to look for when purchasing seafood.
Mike thinks that in the bay area we do a pretty good job in general of offering good quality seafood. He says, “In the bay area the demand of quality is high. If you walk into a store and it smells like fish walk out. If it smells a little bit like fish give them a break it is fish. If it smells rank or overly bleachy walk away.”
Additionally, I would also say to look for clear eyes, firm skin and flesh and a nice vibrant color.
Local seafood markets Mike recommends.
Mike says, “Besides Osprey Seafood in Napa I recommend, Monterey Fish Market in Berkeley, Hapuku Fish Shop inside Market Hall in Oakland, Antonelli Bros in San Francisco and even Whole Foods does a decent job. Programs like CSFs (community supported fisheries) are good. They will give you good fish. I don’t know if you want to eat as much sardines as they want to give you but they are usually using hook and line local fish.” An example of one of these would be Real Good Fish.
Favorite seafood restaurants in the bay area.
I asked Mike, when he goes out to dinner where are some of his favorite restaurants in the bay area for seafood. He said, “Perbacco, Staffan (the chef/owner) knows more than any chef I have ever worked with, his knowledge of seafood and food in general is incredible, Gotts roadside, who is one of our accounts, their quality is very good, Swan Oyster Depot really knows their fish, Coqueta, Bottega, Hurley’s (just about any restaurant in Napa, really), Wood Tavern and Walnut Creek Yacht Club.
Why I buy from Mike.
As I said before, I trust Mike over anyone else when purchasing seafood. I purchased fish from him wholesale when I was a chef in the restaurant business and I continue to purchase from him for my private chef clients and personal use.
Besides knowing the fish business inside and out Mike is a friend. He has a wonderful wife and family and has a wonderfully silly sense of humor.
Want to see just how knowledgeable and funny Mike is? Check out his educational video on oysters here. I laughed my ass off.
My favorite quote from Mike is this, “I had a fellow fishmonger say that when he retires he will be buying his fish from me. The reason is that we know quality and I love fish. My idea of a perfect day is to work with fish. I hate business. I am a poor business man, but I love working with fish. My brother Pat is better at the computer than me.” Whenever I read that it makes me smile.
So where is your local seafood market? It’s time to get out there and take a look around. Help out the little guy. Support your community. And in doing so, support your own health and the health of the environment.
I would love to hear your opinion in the comments section below.
I also would love to invite you to subscribe to The Healthy Locavore, for my weekly newsletter. I am so grateful for this community, thank you for being part of it!
Mike and his lovely wife SusanAs a physiological psychology graduate from UCSB, Mike looked forward to a professional future in the laboratories of the Bay Area. Newly married and with high hopes, he moved his family to the Haight Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco only to find a hiring freeze up and down the peninsula. After several months of selling wedding presents to make rent, his life took one of those turns. Upon a chance meeting with a neighbor who owned the fish store across the street, Mike begged for any job at all. The neighbor, Peter Bird, hired Mike as a driver for $5 per hour. It was September of 1983 and Mike fell in love with the business from the very start. As he learned the day-to-day operations, his passion for fish and the people who worked with it grew. In December of 1986, Mike excitingly took the plunge and purchased a major share in Osprey Seafood. By 1989, Mike invested all he had in Osprey Seafood and became the sole owner. Since then, Mike’s goal to serve the entire Napa Valley area has resulted in the retail store at Wine Country Avenue. 29 years later and he still loves fish.
Sarah Burchard is the author of The Healthy Locavore, a natural foods chef and experience host whose writing focuses on cooking, holistic health, supporting community and eating locally grown and made foods.