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Is San Francisco Bay Fished Out?

Not yet. But with salmon off-limits, and catches of striped bass, halibut, rockfish, sturgeon, and other fish way down, Bay Area fishermen, fish wholesalers, and seafood restaurants face an uncertain future.



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"It's harder than ever now to make a living," Thomas said. "The king of the fisheries was salmon, but that's over."

Anfinson recently took a job on a cross-Bay commuter ferry. He also has diversified his Bass Tub business by hosting weddings, on-the-Bay parties, and ash dispersals at sea.

"I need to make ends meet," he said. "Business is dying. It's not the glory days anymore."

In an April paper entitled "The Future of Pacific Island Fisheries," Robert Gillett and Ian Cartwright suggested that we might be on the brink of the end of fishing as we know it. By 2035, the authors write, open-ocean species, including yellowfin and bigeye tunas, will have experienced significant declines from their current reduced populations and that canned tuna will no longer be cheap. The authors also believe that coastal species and reef fishes will drop far below current population levels, due in part to "uncontrollable fishing effort."

The situation here in California may not be quite as dire. A 2009 article in Science coauthored by Professor Ray Hilborn of the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington reports that California's fisheries are among the least overfished in the world. "That report didn't get much press because media is all about doom and gloom today," Johnson of Monterey Fish Market said. "Relatively, we're in good shape. California still has some fish left, unlike a lot of developed parts of the world."

Mike Hudson also remains optimistic and even believes the Sacramento's severely injured salmon run will recover. "It depends on how we decide to manage our water flows, but I'm thinking there are good things for salmon in the next few years," he said. "Salmon are so resilient. They have such a short life cycle, so all we need is water in our rivers and we'll have a million fish again in just three years."

But to fishermen like the Smiths, the future of fishing is a more complicated network of possibilities. The son sees a potential future in sharks, but his dad is reluctant to go that way. "I don't want to fish sharks," his father said. "Striped bass and salmon have been my staple. Sharks are kind of like bottom of the barrel. But next season I might have to do it."

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