Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Spring Forward

For fish and fish lovers March is an exciting time.  Wild Salmon, Halibut, and Sablefish seasons begin on the West Coast.  Striped bass, Crab, Golden Tile, Fluke, Mahi, and just about every other commercially viable species on the East Coast comes into season and/or begins spawning.  Coming out of the doldrums of winter, this spring variety is a welcome sight.

Shad Roe
The first harbinger of spring is of course the shad.  Making its way up the coast in primal fashion, shad return to the same rivers they have been coming to for thousands of years, in order to propagate and replenish their species.  It's interesting to note that for ages people have looked to the shad runs for hope of spring.  They were seen as the light out of the darkness of winter.  Today we have the groundhog and year-round fruit, so the situation is not quite as dire, but it's still nice to see the fish run like they have for a thousand years and be reminded of pre-Google times.  Shad, especially the American/white shad, are prized for their roe sacs.  Old timers will tell you they are best fried up in bacon fat and served with potatoes.  Newcomers beware though, shad meat and roe carry with them strong flavors of the wild and are not for the light-hearted.

On the West Coast wild salmon, halibut, and sablefish (black cod) will be available soon.  Halibut and Sable seasons open up March 22nd, but don't be expecting these highly prized fish to be steals.  The halibut quota has been cut once again due to poor showings in stocking densities and there is more demand for sable overseas than ever.  Halibut are prized as the king of all flatfish, the meat is lush, thick, and mildly flavored.  Sable, or black cod as it is known commercially, is in high demand for its oily, rich meat and excellent flavor.

Golden Tilefish
Wild salmon runs will be starting in May, namely the Copper River salmon will begin around May 15th.  This river is world renown for producing beautiful, tasty salmon and also for being one of the first rivers to open.  California rivers also open at the beginning of May so I expect to see the big beautiful fish available by the middle of the month.  Usually it is the kings that show first, then later on sockeye and coho varieties.  Most of the keta get canned or are used for salmon roe.  The forecast for wild salmon season looks promising right now, but it's still a waiting game.  We should keep in mind that over a hundred years ago we had wild salmon available on both of our coasts.  Over-fishing and industrialization wiped them out commercially on the East Coast, so it is as important as ever to protect the last remaining wild stocks on the west coast.

Striped bass, aka rockfish, are just waiting to make a mad rush out of the ocean and into the Bay for spawning.  Rockfish are a migratory species that return every March to fresh water in order to spawn.   With Maryland closed until June, Virginia will be supplying the catch for most of the time until Delaware has a small opening towards the end of March.

Coming soon!
Don't tell anyone but I heard a crazy rumor the other day.  As of March 1st I got offered my first soft shell crab out of Florida!  That is way too early, as the price indicated, for me, but it is nice to know that the season is on its way.  Soft shell crabs are blue crabs that have molted and can be eaten entirely after cleaning.  Usually the season moves northward as the waters warm and really hits its stride in May when local areas open.  Right now it is still very difficult to get fresh domestic blue crab meat due to the fact that in most areas the crabs are still hibernating.  Usually Maryland begins producing meat in early April, so look forward to fresh domestic crab meat and soft shell crabs to hit markets very soon.

Fluke being unloaded in RI
Other lesser known species to hit stands in the coming months are fluke and golden tile.  Fluke are a member of the flounder family and are being caught in Virginia.  They are one of the tastier flat fish and can also be eaten raw when fresh.  The Virginia season usually lasts till the end of April.  Golden and gray tilefish are caught in deeper waters off of the East Coast.  They range from Florida to Maine and in the spring they are usually caught off of North Carolina, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New Jersey.  The flesh of tilefish is succulent, shellfish sweet, and very meaty.  As spring gets sprung also be on the lookout for domestic mahi, mackerel, tautog, black bass and a variety of snappers from Florida.  In the mean time, look for the shad to lead you out of your snowy coma.
Black Bass right off the boat

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