Four Fish with Paul Greenberg

Four Fish with Paul Greenberg

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

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

A tuna like product is alreadycoming out of Hawaii.

The future will see this finetuned and vastly expanded to where fish in its many forms will be our dominantprotein.  Most of it will be served assushi, though the recent advent of basa filets and tilapia is bringing fishwater vegetarian fish to our tables as traditional processed fish and pan friedfilets.  They have even mastered the artof producing good tasting fresh water fish.

Most of the expansion will bevegetarian based fish to relieve the need to mine the oceans for wild fishfeed.

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

Those stocks are still beenclipped but it is now small time.  Intime all parties may decide to form a Grand Banks Authority that sets out tooptimize the whole biome. 

More hopefully, proposals todemark management zones properly enshrining ownership- and responsibilitieswill be established and the seas will live again in the natural abundance thatthey are capable of.

Some day, perhaps a young boy cango down to the creek in Mid West Ontario and hope to catch a fresh waterCoho.  For that the riverside habitatneeds to be fully restored throughout the watershed.  I believe it to be possible and I even knowhow to do it all.

Catch of the Day
Published: July 29, 2010

In the late fall of 2009, bluefin tuna cameinshore along the New Jerseycoast 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 nearDeal and Asbury Park, not 30 miles from New York City as thegannet flies.

TheFuture of the Last Wild Food

By Paul Greenberg. 266 pp.

These were not giant bluefin, the 1,000-poundbullet trains so prized by the Japanese that they might sell for $100,000 ormore. Those are almost gone now, as Paul Greenberg points out in his importantand stimulating new book, “Four Fish,” which takes as its subject the globalfisheries 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 northand south, east and west, heedless of international borders or treaties, theirpopulation hovering on the brink of total collapse.
These tuna were instead their progeny’sprogeny, fish of merely 75 or 150 pounds, the shape of huge, iridescentfootballs. They are graceful as ballet dancers, and as strong, some of “thewildest things in the world,” as Greenberg calls them.
A fishing guide I know well was out there andgot a client close enough to a small pod of tuna to cast to it. The client gothis fish, which is his own story. And a few hours later, my friend, drivingnorth through Brooklyn with five pounds ofruby­-red tuna belly resting on ice in the back of his car, called me to ask ifI had any soy sauce.
I was newly installed as the restaurant criticof The New York Times and had spent the previous few months on a surreptitioustour of some of the city’s best restaurants. I had been eating stupendouslywell. But nothing I had eaten that summer and fall prepared me for the taste ofthis tuna that late afternoon, for the intense blast of flavor and rich, creamyfattiness delivered by a cut of truly fresh otoro — supreme tuna belly, in theparlance of the sushi bar — not yet four hours old.
Nothing I had ever eaten could have. Thebluefin tuna you get at restaurants, even the best ones, has been flash-frozenand thawed, is days — or weeks — old, has traveled thousands and thousands ofmiles. In a bite of that absolutely fresh tuna from New Jersey, I experienced a taste of trulywild food, a majestic flavor, something incredibly rare.
And as it melted on my tongue and receded intomemory, I felt guilt and doubt and fear. Will my children, who demurred ineating the fish that day, ever have a chance to eat bluefin tuna? Will theirchildren? Will anyone? Should they? What are we really to do with these fish?
Greenberg, a journalist who has contributed toThe New York Times Magazine, has constructed a book that, even as it lays outthe grim and complicated facts of common seas ravaged by separate nations, alsomanages to sound a few hopeful and exciting notes about the future of fish, andwith it, the future of civilizations in thrall to the bounty of the sea.
The point of the book comes down to the pushand pull of our desire to eat wild fish, and the promise and fear of consumingthe farmed variety. As Greenberg follows his four species, and our pursuit ofthem, farther and farther out into the ocean, he posits the sense of privilegewe should feel in consuming wild fish, along with the necessity of aquaculture.
Along the way, Greenberg raises real-lifeethical questions of the sort to haunt a diner’s dreams, the kind of questionsthat will not be easily answered by looking at the Monterey BayAquarium’s seafood-watch card. In truth, he shows, there is rarely such a thingas 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-oceanreporting from the Yukon to Greece, from the waters of Long Island Sound tothe Mekong Delta, along with accounts of somestirring fishing trips, Greenberg makes a powerful argument: We must, movingforward, manage our oceans so that the fish we eat can exist both inaquacultural settings and within the ecosystems of wild oceans.
Wild fish were once everywhere, of course, in suchnumbers as to astound. (And still, Greenberg reports, the current global catchof wild fish measures 170 billion pounds a year, “the equivalent in weight tothe 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 requiredplanting.”

Once, Greenbergwrites, as many as 100 million Atlantic salmon larvae hatched every year in theupper reaches of the Connecticut River and eventually made their way south toLong Island Sound, and north from there to Greenland before returning to the Berkshire foothills to spawn. Dams, overfishing and moredams still have taken their grim toll on their descendants. Today, every pieceof Atlantic salmon you’ll find at your local supermarket or fishmonger, smokedinto lox, wrapped around mock crabmeat, or lying flat and orange againstcrushed ice, is farmed. As Greenberg explains clearly and well, the process bywhich that farming is undertaken threatens the future of what wild salmonremain here and in the Pacific. The amount of wild fish needed to feed farmedsalmon, the threat of farmed salmon escaping and crossbreeding with wild salmonstocks, the rise of pollution from the farms themselves — when it comes to thebusiness of domesticating salmon, Greenberg writes, “we should have chosensomething else.”

Of course we did choose something else, some of us. Thatfish is sea bass — branzino, as it’s mostly called on restaurant menus now — aspecies that once thrived in the wild along the coast of Europe, throughout theMediterranean Sea and through the Strait of Gibraltar, along the western coastsof Portugal, Spain and France, north to England. No more, though the farmedversion is a success story of ample proportions, as anyone who spends morenights than not in white-tablecloth restaurants can tell you.
Greenberg’s accounting of the 2,000-year process oflearning to farm sea bass, “one that involved the efforts of ancient Romanfishermen, modern Italian poachers, French and Dutch nutritionists, a Greekmarine biologist turned entrepreneur, and an Israeli endocrinologist,” reads inparts like the treatment for a Hollywood film, a toga epic in fishysmell-o-vision.
And cod? As Greenberg writes, it fueled the Americaneconomy in its early days, and good parts of the European one, too. A five-footwooden carving of the fish hangs from the ceiling in the Massachusetts StateHouse, to celebrate its place in the region’s history.
But industrial fishing of these tremendous and once commonanimals, by fishermen the world over, has led to terribly depleted stocks andclosed fishing grounds — and, Greenberg reports, to a turn toward wild Alaskanpollock to fill our desire for firm, white-fleshed fish to make fish sticks andbattered-fish sandwiches, and from there toward farmed Vietnamese tra andAfrican tilapia.
These shifts, of course, come with their own nightmares andpossibilities, 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 thegreat tragedies of the modern age. This magnificent creature, once mostlyshunned by the world’s cooks and diners for its bloody flesh unsuitable forhuman consumption, now teeters almost on the edge of extinction, principallybecause the world’s nations cannot agree to the one measure that will guaranteeits future: a total ban on its commercial harvest, in all waters.
“The passion to save bluefin is as strong as the one tokill them,” Greenberg writes, “and these dual passions are often containedwithin the body of a single fisherman.” “Four Fish” is a marvelous explorationof that contradiction, one that is reflected in the stance and behavior of allnations that fish. It is a necessary book for anyone truly interested in whatwe take from the sea to eat, and how, and why.

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