Like fresh sardines? Their summer season starts in July, but they’ll be scarce this year.
The National Marine Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said stocks of Pacific sardines are now too low to allow for commercial fishing, so the commercial sardine season has been called off.
But there’s hope for fresh sardine lovers. Some sardines are allowed to be caught if used for fresh bait. Also, certain West Coast tribes of Native Americans are allowed to harvest these small herring relatives. And — here’s the kicker — up to 40 percent of the pelagic fish (those that inhabit the upper layers of the open ocean) caught by trawlers in purse seines can be sardines, up to a limit of 15,435,000 pounds of these exceedingly nutritious fish.
That ought to be enough to get you a few fresh sardines this summer.
(Check the Santa Rosa Seafood Co. on Santa Rosa Avenue, Oliver’s and Whole Foods for availability.)
Why are stocks of sardines so low? Are they fished out? The answer, according to marine biologists at NOAA, is no. They aren’t overfished.
Their stocks are simply being managed so that they don’t become fished out.
Sardine populations go through a regular boom-and-bust cycle, and right now, stocks are at the nadir of a bust cycle.
This has triggered the ban on commercial fishing, which will allow stocks to replenish.
However, as you can see, there will still be fresh sardines to be had.
And thank goodness, because fresh sardines (and canned sardines in olive oil or water, as well) are truly a superfood, containing copious amounts of almost every nutrient our bodies need.
Rich in protein
Sardines are rich in protein (an ounce of protein in three ounces of fish), omega-3 essential fatty acid (two grams in three ounces of fish), vitamin B-12, vitamin D (nearly 70 percent of our daily requirement in three ounces of fish), selenium (75 percent of our daily requirement in three ounces of fish), phosphorus, calcium and iron.
One substance they don’t contain is poisonous mercury, found in many ocean fish such as swordfish and bigeye tuna.
Sardines are small, grow quickly, and are low on the food chain, and thus have an insignificant amount of mercury.
When you do find them this month, fresh sardines will only be available for a few weeks at most. Flash-frozen sardines will be available year-round, of course, as are the canned sorts.
But it’s high grilling season right now, and there’s no better way to treat a fresh sardine than to grill it.
First, you have to fillet it. Here’s how.
Cover your cutting board with a length of wax paper.
Lay the sardine belly up with the head away from you. Slice the belly open with a sharp paring knife from the tail end to the head.
Flick away the entrails with your finger and discard them. Rinse the belly cavity clean under cold running water, then pat the fish dry with paper towels.
Hold the head between your thumb and forefinger and pull backward toward the tail, tearing the head from the body. Discard the head.