San Francisco Bay used to be the biggest commercial fishing center on the West Coast, but now only herring are netted in its waters commercially for human consumption.

It's the herring eggs that people want.

Salmon, shad and striped bass all used to be netted in the bay and the Delta. Oysters also were harvested commercially in the bay in the late 1800s. Author Jack London wrote about being an oyster pirate in the bay and later a warden to stop pirates.

Overfishing, pollution and population growth took their toll on several of the fisheries. Upstream dam building destroyed many spawning areas for salmon, hastening their decline.

Salmon

  • 1850s: Commercial netting of salmon begins in parts of the bay and the Delta.

  • 1882: Nineteen salmon canneries were operating on rivers in and near the Delta at their peak, before the industry began its downward trend.

  • 1890s: Ocean trolling for salmon begins, and later would replace fishing for salmon on rivers as a commercial operation.

  • 1957: The state bans all commercial salmon fishing inside the Golden Gate.

    Striped bass

  • 1889: Commercial netting of striped bass begins 10 years after the fish were introduced to the bay and Delta from New Jersey.


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  • 1935: Commercial netting of striped bass is banned in the bay and Delta. After that, only recreational anglers are allowed to catch the fish.

    Shad

    Another transplant from the East Coast, shad, were sold in San Francisco markets as early as 1879. The fish were originally consumed as fresh fish but later they were salted and shipped to China. In 1958, netting of shad in the bay and Delta was outlawed.

    Sturgeon

    These big fish were snagged with hooks, with the peak of commercial fishing between 1875 and 1892. In 1901, the state temporarily abolished the commercial take of sturgeon and in 1917 made the ban permanent. Recreational fishing with strict limits now is allowed.

    Herring

    Commercial fishers harvested herring in small volumes in the bay several times from the 1850s to 1920s. The market took off in the 1970s because of Japanese demand for the roe. The state responded by setting quotas on how much can be netted.

    Source: National Marine Fisheries Service 1979 report by Susan Smith and Susumu Kato