When I was a small fry, vacationing at the Youth Hostel on Martha’s Vineyard, my family spent an afternoon paddling up Herring Run Creek. When we reached shallow water and got out to push, we noticed our shins were bumping against fish. They were herring. My dad had a fishing license, so we began scooping them into the boat with our hats, T-shirts, and hands. Eventually, we inadvertently scooped our way too close to property owned by Jackie Onassis, which is why a motorboat manned by dudes in suits rumbled up. It wasn’t looking great until they saw our herring haul, and admitted that, by law, if we were fishing we could carry on.

That encounter, and the regrettably stinky cooking experience that followed, summarizes most of what there is to say about herring in America. First: They are all around us, yet we don’t notice until we bump into them. Second: Herring can resolve problems — from trespass to the ecological balance of the oceans.

There are plentiful schools of this fish, though in places the population has crashed. Nonetheless, the more herring we eat, the more we help, says Geoff Shester, California campaign director for the marine protection group Oceana. “You’re actually helping save herring by eating them directly, because if you eat a pound of farmed salmon, it took four pounds of herring to create that salmon,” Shester told NPR. “So, you could just eat the one pound of herring directly.”