A diverse and ample range of seafood products can be caught or raised in the waters of Northern California. Here's a sampling of what you can buy, and when:
SHELLFISH. Oyster farming of the type that takes place in Marin County is among the most environmentally sound means of food production, on land or sea. Despite the old myth that it's okay to consume the shellfish only during the months that contain the letter R, oyster farms intensively monitor their water for bacteria, and it's generally safe to eat the mollusks year-round.
SQUID. California squid supports one of the state's largest commercial fisheries, much of it landed in Monterey. It's cheap and delicious, and is generally available year-round, though in 2010 the season was closed early after fishermen reached their catch limit.
DUNGENESS CRAB. San Francisco's totemic seafood also happens to come from one of the best-managed commercial fisheries in the world. Fishermen's ability to distinguish between male and female crabs — the females must be returned to the water — has allowed “Dungies” in the ocean waters off San Francisco to thrive. Crab season runs through the winter and spring.
CALIFORNIA SALMON. While plummeting salmon returns led regulators to severely curtail and even cancel California's commercial salmon seasons in recent years, this summer the season for Chinook salmon will be open on and off for more than three months over a period stretching from May to October. Salmon is California's most distinctive wild fish, and one of the most economically important to fishermen.
SAND DABS. Tasty and inexpensive, sand dabs are a groundfish caught by trawling the sand and mud off the coast of Northern California. They are available year-round.
PETRALE SOLE. Another bottom-dwelling flatfish, petrale sole has such an excellent flavor that it has helped build the reputation of San Francisco's legendary Tadich Grill. The fish is available year-round.
SARDINES. Forget about the canned stuff. Fresh sardines, redolent of the deep oceans, are quite a treat. Commercial seasons on the fish open and close on a rolling basis. Since they freeze well, Pacific sardines are usually on the market.
HALIBUT. The commercial California halibut fishery has been closely managed since the fish declined dramatically in the mid-20th century. While weather often dictates the volume of halibut in Northern California, the fish is available year-round.