Sea forager brings facts, stories and recipes to West Marin

Todd Selby
FISHING: Author Kirk Lombard poke polls “somewhere on the San Mateo coastline.” He will read from his book, “The Sea Forager’s Guide to the Northern California Coast,” on Saturday, in the Red Barn at the Bear Valley Visitor Center.  

Kirk Lombard started fishing when he was a young boy—for eels in Manhattan’s polluted Hudson River. But his grandfather regaled him with tales of fishing for salmon one could actually eat in Monterey Bay, luring him deeper into fishing. “I’ve had many different careers, but through all of it I’ve always gone fishing,” he said. Some years ago, Mr. Lombard, who in the past worked as an actor and wrote puppet plays, landed a job as a fisheries observer under the California Recreational Fisheries Survey. He traveled to fishing sites across the Bay Area, including places around West Marin, to find fishermen and document the size and species of their catches, as well as how far they had traveled to fish. “It was my job to find people fishing… and see what they had. For someone who is already insanely interested in fishing, you couldn’t think of a better job,” he said. Now Mr. Lombard, who lives in Moss Beach with his wife and two children, has released a new book, “The Sea Forager’s Guide to the Northern California Coast,” which explains many species in the area, what habitat they prefer, what kind of gear may be appropriate for catching them—and whether they are tasty. Some, like the lizardfish, aren’t, but think about it from the fish’s perspective, he writes: “Let us take a moment and reflect on the miracle of lizardfishness and think what a happy animal it must be… Being loved by human piscivores doesn’t always work out well for ocean fishes—just ask a bluefin tuna.” The guide is divided into sections on mainstream fish (like salmon), bait fish, surfperch, forage fish (small but tasty fish, like anchovies) shellfish and seaweed. “The perspective of the book is all about the stuff that can be gathered through the auspices of a recreational fishing license,” he told the Light. It is written in a conversational, playful style, and he includes many recipes, poems and anecdotes from his experiences, which also inform the fishing and foraging tours he leads in San Francisco. (Mr. Lombard also runs a seafood C.S.A., or rather, C.S.F.). Tales from the book include his recollection of one attempt to fish using the plainfin midshipman for bait. After a few hours, he writes, he pulled the bait bucket out of the water and heard a strange buzzing. “I held the bucket to my ear. What was this song? How often had they sung it? In the depths of the sea? In the polluted sluices of Stege Marsh? In the yuppie flats of Tiburon? Was it their national anthem? Their rembetika? Their blues? After a few moments I realized what I was listening to… It was a death song of the toadfishes.” (He released them back in the water.) He also advises that sturgeon fishing is for the “contemplative, and philosophical type,” not those who can’t stand to return home empty-handed. There is a discussion of the debate around recreational closures; one heading under the entry for rockfish reads “Politics, Ugh: A Diatribe.” He also starts the book briefly explaining the difference between a consumer and a citizen. “I urge people to be citizens of the shore, not consumers who think it’s inexhaustible,” he said. “It’s the only two pages in the book without a laugh.” Point Reyes Books and the Point Reyes National Seashore Association host Mr. Lombard for a conversation and sea shanties on Saturday, Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. at the Red Barn at the park’s Bear Valley headquarters.