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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
The crew uses a purse seine to catch the anchovies. One of these nets costs $50,000 to $60,000.
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.
A successful fisherman must be a navigator, a plumber, an electrician, a mechanic, and an expert fish finder, and must possess endurance and strength.
The Merva W is usually at sea for a good 12 hours a day.
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.