Come On, Sardines
"These are not your grandfather's sardines." That's the motto of the Sardinistas, a group of California environmentalists I profiled in June who want to reintroduce the silvery fish to the American palate.
Well, someone has beat them to it. Retailer Daren Warnick is now hawking Pacific sardines, canned in nearby Santa Cruz, at his new shop Cannery Row Sardine Co. in Monterey Bay.
These are most definitely not your grandfather's sardines. There are no bones and the thick, meaty fillets, which are hand-packed in olive oil, are skinless, too. "Delightful," said one taster in our office. "If you closed your eyes, you'd think you were eating tuna."
The return of sardines to Cannery Row is a historic event. For the first half of the 20th century, Monterey Bay was ground zero for sardines; the canneries processed more than 700,000 tons of sardines annually during the 1930s. But within a decade, the sardine population mysteriously began to decline. By the 1950s, it had collapsed. Overfishing certainly contributed; sardines were not only processed for food but also ground into animal feed and used for oil. But there's evidence that natural boom-and-bust ocean cycles were factors as well.
Sardines are back. The Blue Ocean Institute and Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, two leading ocean conservation groups, have greenlighted sardines because of their abundance and because they are fished in environmentally friendly ways. Quotas are carefully managed: Fishermen are allowed only 80,000 tons annually, just over 10 percent of the peak haul in the 1930s.
The new Cannery Row sardines come with a catch, however: a 3.25-ounce can retails for $6.95. (Cans purchased online cost $6.50 plus shipping.) Compare that with boneless, skinless Moroccan sardines that sell for less than $2 per 4.375-ounce can on Amazon.com. But Warnick says you can taste the difference: His fish are wild-caught Pacific sardines, hand-packed in high-quality olive oil. "We've had great feedback. People keep telling us these are sardines for people who don't like sardines."
-- Jane Black
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