Anchovy fishing on the San Francisco Bay

It’s anchovy season in Northern California. Photographer and writer Abner Kingman spends the day with a crew on the Merva W

Anchovy Fishing Boat

Abner Kingman

Anchovy fishing off the California coast

FV Merva W searches for schools of anchovies in the San Francisco Bay, launching from Fisherman’s Wharf. Each week during the April-to-October season, the crew brings in about 3,200 pounds of the fish, which are sold as live bait for the sportfishing of California halibut, striped bass, and rockfish.

Merva W anchovy fishing crew

Abner Kingman

Meet the Merva W crew

From left, Captain Mike McHenry, Pence Mackimmie, and John Tarantino relax inside the Merva W, a 60-foot fishing boat that McHenry, 66, built in 1971; it’s named after his mother.

Merva W anchovy fishing boat

Abner Kingman

A family fishing tradition

The captain’s son, Porter, 27, is on the crew of the Merva W. “There’s a lot of family pride involved in teaching a son or grandson how to fish,” Mike says. “You hope that one of them will show an interest, and then it’s a matter of leading by example.”

School of anchovy

Abner Kingman

Swimming in schools

The northern anchovy swims in schools near the water’s surface and averages 5 to 7 inches long. Its life span is generally just four years. About half of the total stock would die each year of natural causes even if no fishing occurred.

Anchovy fishing net

Abner Kingman

The right net

The crew uses a purse seine to catch the anchovies. One of these nets costs $50,000 to $60,000.

Anchovy Fishing Net

Abner Kingman

Reeling them in

They set the 1,200-foot net in a circle around a school of anchovies and then purse it (draw the bottom closed) to form a large bowl. They scoop the anchovies out with a brail (dip net), and place them in the boat’s fishhold. Eventually they deliver the live fish to holding pens in Berkeley and on Treasure Island.

Anchovy fisherman

Abner Kingman

A fisherman's forte

A successful fisherman must be a navigator, a plumber, an electrician, a mechanic, and an expert fish finder, and must possess endurance and strength.

Anchovy Fishing: End of the Day

Abner Kingman

Back to shore at sunset

The Merva W is usually at sea for a good 12 hours a day.

Anchovy pen

Abner Kingman

Ready to sell after a long day's work

At the end of the day, the fish are moved from the hold to a pen. Anchovies are sold for about $50 per scoop (about 6 pounds). When not fishing for anchovies, the crew members of Merva W also catch squid, sardines, and Dungeness crabs.

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