Decisions, Decisions…

I am feeling a little stuck right now. I am investigating the “seafood” section of the book at the moment. The thing is, we never defined what we meant by “seafood” when we began identifying our food focuses. I have been going back and forth about a number of possibilities without being able to identify the one or two obvious choices.

Pismo clams are the first possibility. Their story is pretty fascinating to me because they were so commonly used for something I had never heard of before. A native species of clam, Pismos grow large and meaty. They are also, so I hear, quite tasty. That notion is something that residents of Santa Cruz from the early 1900’s, and sea otters can agree upon. Families used to scour the beaches of Santa Cruz County during clamming season. There were restrictions on how many clams any individual could take, but I have been told that many parents got around that by bringing their numerous children with them, each having equal rights to the clams as everyone else. There are no longer the number and size of clams that there once were, and there is disagreement on why that is. Some people blame the residents who showed no mercy in their collecting, taking clams out until there were barely any left. Another theory is that the sea otter is to blame. Otters were hunted to near extinction in the Monterey Bay and as they declined they stopped eating the clams. As the species became protected and their numbers rose, the clams disappeared. The truth may be somewhere in the middle, but whatever the answer is, Pismo clams are a story worth telling. The problem is, they weren’t exactly a crop in the sense that an industry rose up around them. People just did their own harvesting on the beach.

One industry that was extremely influential in Santa Cruz county in the late 19th Century was whaling, particularly up in Davenport. However, from my initial research, it doesn’t look like whales were hunted for food in the same way many other sea creatures were. They were hunted for oil. The other big hurdle – though whaling stopped a long time ago, it is very hard to read about, and hard to decide how to write it in a way that is compelling without being completely depressing. Maybe it’s OK to be depressing though, it is part of the story.

Sardines were a huge industry out of the Monterey Bay until the middle of the 20th Century. One year the sardines just disappeared, and have yet to return. This story is really fascinating but while the fish were caught throughout the bay, the industry was really based in Monterey.

Then there are the salmonids. It is not hard to come across pictures of farmers holding up trout the caught in the San Lorenzo that measure over 3 feet in length. The problem with this possibility is that many residents are familiar with the fact that these fish live here and are considered a threatened species now. I don’t want to tell a story everyone has already heard before…

Well, that is the dilemma. It doesn’t even scratch the surface of the options I could research thanks to the incredibly productive Bay we are lucky enough to call home.

—Sierra Perry Ryan

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