Sardines hold a significant place in American history and culture. Commercial West Coast sardine fishing began during World War I to meet the demand for portable, nutritious, and battlefield-ready food. Monterey Bay was the site of the most intense production of canned sardines, and the sardine plants and the lives of their workers became the inspiration for John Steinbeck?s novel Cannery Row. In the 1950s, the fishery was largely depleted and abandoned, due not only to overfishing but to fluctuating changes in water temperature that rendered the area too cold for the warm-water-seeking sardines.

In recent years, careful management has led to increased sardine populations, and the West Coast has become a thriving sardine fishery yet again. Sardines from Pacific waters are a ?best choice,? while Atlantic sardines in the Mediterranean should be avoided due to inefficient management and diminishing populations.

Sardines are prepared much like herring, another small, oily fish. They are traditionally featured in Sicilian or Mediterranean dishes, are stuffed and fried, or are served whole, simply grilled, on fresh bread.