Palo Alto Weekly

Eating Out - January 13, 2012

Local catch

SirenSeaSA brings community-supported fishery to Mountain View

by Angela Johnston

Anna Larsen used to spend her Friday evenings singing opera as a mezzo-soprano in Los Angeles. Now she works late nights on the docks in Bodega Bay de-boning cod and gutting squid inside a 40-degree fish plant.

Larsen is the founder of SirenSeaSA, a community-supported fishery that strives to bring fresh and sustainable seafood to Bay Area residents. Founded last June, SirenSeaSA directly connects local fisherman to seafood-loving community members and encourages the sustainable catch and consumption of a variety of seafood.

As with a CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) farm box that delivers fresh produce to subscribers, SirenSeaSA members receive boxes of fresh seafood, which could include oysters from Point Reyes, swordfish from Monterey and mussels from Bodega Bay. In December, members found crab and black cod in their boxes.

Recipes and tips on how to prepare — and in some cases, deconstruct — each week's delivery are posted on SirenSeaSA's website, along with information about the fishermen or farmers who brought in the catch.

SirenSeaSA was developed after North Coast Fisheries Inc. hired Larsen as a quality-control manager. Her career change was part of an impulsive decision to move back to her hometown of Petaluma, where she has fond memories of the fishing culture. Her fishmongering job connected her with other Bay Area foodies and fish-lovers, and at an event for leaders in the food community, Larsen was prompted by Bruce Cole of Edible San Francisco to start a community-supported fishery (CSF).

"Google was just beginning their CSF for employees at the time, and Bruce told me to make something like that happen," Larsen said.

Providing fresh fish that hasn't been overly handled, and connecting fishermen to a "very interested" market, also motivated Larsen.

"When you go to the grocery store, the fish never looks that great. Four or five people have handled it, and the fish could have been out of the water for a week. I wanted to provide people with fish that was as fresh as possible," Larsen said.

Larsen's definition of sustainable is two-fold. She says sustainable fishing methods should not harm the population or the surrounding ocean environment.

What began as a trial run for 35 San Francisco residents has evolved into a program that now serves more than 120 members. Larsen currently drops fish off at five locations around the Bay Area, and Mountain View is the newest addition.

Larsen said she received interest from a lot of people in the South Bay who were wanted to have a pickup spot close by. "I sent out an email and asked if anyone wanted to volunteer their home as a pickup location and one or two people wrote back right away."

Depending on the closest pickup site, members can travel to Mountain View, Oakland, Petaluma or two locations in San Francisco to pick up their weekly serving of seafood. Currently, there are only 12 members who use the South Bay pickup. Larsen said she could potentially handle another 18.

SirenSeaSA members can select how many times a month they would like to pick up fish from SirenSeaSA (twice or four times per month) and select the portion size of the seafood. A half share of fish, which costs $20 a week, will comfortably feed two people, Larsen said. The full share costs $40 and feeds four people.

Bay Area residents are no strangers to the benefits of community-supported agriculture, and there are a number of programs that deliver local, fresh produce to consumers. Community-supported fishery programs, on the other hand, are not as widespread. Google is the only other company currently serving the South Bay, and its subscribers are limited to Google employees.

Larsen said that she eventually plans to partner with Google once they branch out beyond their employee customer base. "Google uses fishermen in Half Moon Bay, so I will probably try to transition my South Bay customers to Google when both of us can support it."

Other plans for 2012 include expanding SirenSeaSA's membership and the variety of fish offered.

In the future, Larsen wants to provide more of a variety of seafood, especially rockfish and groundfish. "There's only so much Dungeness crab you can take," she said.

Larsen described herself as a perfectionist when it comes to fish and said she won't give customers anything less than perfect. A couple weeks were cancelled because she deemed the fish not up to par.

"I'm kind of a pest," Larsen joked. "I test the fish; I make sure I meet the fisherman and see the boat. I put a lot of thought into it and do a lot of fretting beforehand."

As a result, the fish that customers get on their dinner plates is "flawless," she said. "There may be a few bones in the fillet and you may have to gut a squid, but it will be delicious and it will be sustainable," she said.

Info: For more about Siren SeaSA, go to sirenseasa.com or call 707-738-5540.

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