Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Four Fish with Paul Greenberg

Four Fish with Paul Greenberg

I found Paul Greenberg ‘s book to be extremely hopeful.  The past forty years, mankind has embarked on a great enterprise to master the art and science of converting certain ideal species from the sea into domesticated food sources.  First, as is made clear here, is that we have already succeeded brilliantly.

Further more major new species will come to market for many good reasons, but mostly because they are filling market niches now still supplied by wild stock.  The wild fishery is been displaced by suitable domesticated varieties.

A tuna like product is already coming out of Hawaii.

The future will see this fine tuned and vastly expanded to where fish in its many forms will be our dominant protein.  Most of it will be served as sushi, though the recent advent of basa filets and tilapia is bringing fish water vegetarian fish to our tables as traditional processed fish and pan fried filets.  They have even mastered the art of producing good tasting fresh water fish.

Most of the expansion will be vegetarian based fish to relieve the need to mine the oceans for wild fish feed.

More importantly the wild fishery is exhausting the stocks available to industrial fisheries.  Sooner or later these will be over and the fleets will be broken up.  Attempting to stop this juggernaut has been futility.  Let it simply bankrupt itself.  We had to let that happen to the cod fishery on the Grand banks. 

Those stocks are still been clipped but it is now small time.  In time all parties may decide to form a Grand Banks Authority that sets out to optimize the whole biome. 

More hopefully, proposals to demark management zones properly enshrining ownership- and responsibilities will be established and the seas will live again in the natural abundance that they are capable of.

Some day, perhaps a young boy can go down to the creek in Mid West Ontario and hope to catch a fresh water Coho.  For that the riverside habitat needs to be fully restored throughout the watershed.  I believe it to be possible and I even know how to do it all.

Catch of the Day
Published: July 29, 2010

In the late fall of 2009, bluefin tuna came inshore along the New Jersey coast and began to crash the surface of the ocean, chasing bait. For days, fast, open fishing boats played run-and-gun with them across the waters near Deal and Asbury Park, not 30 miles from New York City as the gannet flies.

The Future of the Last Wild Food

By Paul Greenberg. 266 pp.

These were not giant bluefin, the 1,000-pound bullet trains so prized by the Japanese that they might sell for $100,000 or more. Those are almost gone now, as Paul Greenberg points out in his important and stimulating new book, “Four Fish,” which takes as its subject the global fisheries market and the relationship humans have with tuna, cod, sea bass and salmon. Giant bluefin tuna have been overharvested here and abroad as they travel north and south, east and west, heedless of international borders or treaties, their population hovering on the brink of total collapse.
These tuna were instead their progeny’s progeny, fish of merely 75 or 150 pounds, the shape of huge, iridescent footballs. They are graceful as ballet dancers, and as strong, some of “the wildest things in the world,” as Greenberg calls them.
A fishing guide I know well was out there and got a client close enough to a small pod of tuna to cast to it. The client got his fish, which is his own story. And a few hours later, my friend, driving north through Brooklyn with five pounds of ruby­-red tuna belly resting on ice in the back of his car, called me to ask if I had any soy sauce.
I was newly installed as the restaurant critic of The New York Times and had spent the previous few months on a surreptitious tour of some of the city’s best restaurants. I had been eating stupendously well. But nothing I had eaten that summer and fall prepared me for the taste of this tuna that late afternoon, for the intense blast of flavor and rich, creamy fattiness delivered by a cut of truly fresh otoro — supreme tuna belly, in the parlance of the sushi bar — not yet four hours old.
Nothing I had ever eaten could have. The bluefin tuna you get at restaurants, even the best ones, has been flash-frozen and thawed, is days — or weeks — old, has traveled thousands and thousands of miles. In a bite of that absolutely fresh tuna from New Jersey, I experienced a taste of truly wild food, a majestic flavor, something incredibly rare.
And as it melted on my tongue and receded into memory, I felt guilt and doubt and fear. Will my children, who demurred in eating the fish that day, ever have a chance to eat bluefin tuna? Will their children? Will anyone? Should they? What are we really to do with these fish?
Greenberg, a journalist who has contributed to The New York Times Magazine, has constructed a book that, even as it lays out the grim and complicated facts of common seas ravaged by separate nations, also manages to sound a few hopeful and exciting notes about the future of fish, and with it, the future of civilizations in thrall to the bounty of the sea.
The point of the book comes down to the push and pull of our desire to eat wild fish, and the promise and fear of consuming the farmed variety. As Greenberg follows his four species, and our pursuit of them, farther and farther out into the ocean, he posits the sense of privilege we should feel in consuming wild fish, along with the necessity of aquaculture.
Along the way, Greenberg raises real-life ethical questions of the sort to haunt a diner’s dreams, the kind of questions that will not be easily answered by looking at the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s seafood-watch card. In truth, he shows, there is rarely such a thing as a good wild fish for any of us to eat, at least not if all of us eat it.
Combining on-the-ground and on-the-ocean reporting from the Yukon to Greece, from the waters of Long Island Sound to the Mekong Delta, along with accounts of some stirring fishing trips, Greenberg makes a powerful argument: We must, moving forward, manage our oceans so that the fish we eat can exist both in aquacultural settings and within the ecosystems of wild oceans.
Wild fish were once everywhere, of course, in such numbers as to astound. (And still, Greenberg reports, the current global catch of wild fish measures 170 billion pounds a year, “the equivalent in weight to the entire human population of China.”) Wild fish seemed to be, as Greenberg puts it, “a crop, harvested from the sea, that magically grew itself back every year. A crop that never required planting.”

Once, Greenberg writes, as many as 100 million Atlantic salmon larvae hatched every year in the upper reaches of the Connecticut River and eventually made their way south to Long Island Sound, and north from there to Greenland before returning to the Berkshire foothills to spawn. Dams, overfishing and more dams still have taken their grim toll on their descendants. Today, every piece of Atlantic salmon you’ll find at your local supermarket or fishmonger, smoked into lox, wrapped around mock crabmeat, or lying flat and orange against crushed ice, is farmed. As Greenberg explains clearly and well, the process by which that farming is undertaken threatens the future of what wild salmon remain here and in the Pacific. The amount of wild fish needed to feed farmed salmon, the threat of farmed salmon escaping and crossbreeding with wild salmon stocks, the rise of pollution from the farms themselves — when it comes to the business of domesticating salmon, Greenberg writes, “we should have chosen something else.”

Of course we did choose something else, some of us. That fish is sea bass — branzino, as it’s mostly called on restaurant menus now — a species that once thrived in the wild along the coast of Europe, throughout the Mediterranean Sea and through the Strait of Gibraltar, along the western coasts of Portugal, Spain and France, north to England. No more, though the farmed version is a success story of ample proportions, as anyone who spends more nights than not in white-tablecloth restaurants can tell you.
Greenberg’s accounting of the 2,000-year process of learning to farm sea bass, “one that involved the efforts of ancient Roman fishermen, modern Italian poachers, French and Dutch nutritionists, a Greek marine biologist turned entrepreneur, and an Israeli endocrinologist,” reads in parts like the treatment for a Hollywood film, a toga epic in fishy smell-o-vision.
And cod? As Greenberg writes, it fueled the American economy in its early days, and good parts of the European one, too. A five-foot wooden carving of the fish hangs from the ceiling in the Massachusetts State House, to celebrate its place in the region’s history.
But industrial fishing of these tremendous and once common animals, by fishermen the world over, has led to terribly depleted stocks and closed fishing grounds — and, Greenberg reports, to a turn toward wild Alaskan pollock to fill our desire for firm, white-fleshed fish to make fish sticks and battered-fish sandwiches, and from there toward farmed Vietnamese tra and African tilapia.
These shifts, of course, come with their own nightmares and possibilities, their own showcases of human frailty in the face of commerce, greed and hunger. Greenberg’s reporting lays these out with care.
The story of the bluefin tuna, meanwhile, is one of the great tragedies of the modern age. This magnificent creature, once mostly shunned by the world’s cooks and diners for its bloody flesh unsuitable for human consumption, now teeters almost on the edge of extinction, principally because the world’s nations cannot agree to the one measure that will guarantee its future: a total ban on its commercial harvest, in all waters.
“The passion to save bluefin is as strong as the one to kill them,” Greenberg writes, “and these dual passions are often contained within the body of a single fisherman.” “Four Fish” is a marvelous exploration of that contradiction, one that is reflected in the stance and behavior of all nations that fish. It is a necessary book for anyone truly interested in what we take from the sea to eat, and how, and why.


Auditions for All said...

I think you must be a creator to create these type of blogs,and i am particularly want to say that you are awesome.the explanation of the posting make me to think for while anyway thanks for
making me to think.well written my favorite blog.classic collections.I loved your blog so i have added your blog to my
dazzling blog list at
So would you put my blog too, on you...

David said...

I lived a while in an Alaskan fishing village as a journalist. I covered fishery conferences, even big ones in Anchorage, with all the scientific, academic, big and small commercial fisherman and sea food processors attending.

I love seafood. But I recognize the over-fishing of depleted fish stocks around the world.

The solution, I think, is found in comparing commercial fishing before WWII and today.

The old image of the man in a small wooden boat sailing for the shoals and reading the waters to cast his nets and haul in fish is recalled. It was hard, work.

The hard dangerous work yet remains, but now big boats driven by big diesels outrun fish tracked by sonar and scooped up in huge nets sometimes more than 30 miles wide and very deep, pulled aboard by motorized winches. The fish do not have much chance to escape such modern techniques. Tons and tons of by-catch, less marketable creatures are simply thrown back as dead and dying carcasses. It is no wonder fish stocks are being depleted.

The fish had a reasonable chance to escape in sufficient numbers to spawn with the old methods, but not with sonar guiding big diesels and miles of motorized netting.

Going back to small boats lacking sonar, with smaller nets, would be an opportunity for more fishermen to skipper their own boats rather than be employees on a big boat.

It would yet be hard chancy work. By catch should be marketed as animal food, fertilizer, etc. The price of fish would go up. And fish stocks could recover.