Our relationship with the ocean is undergoing a profound transformation. Whereas just three decades ago nearly everything we ate from the sea was wild, rampant overfishing combined with an unprecedented bio-tech revolution has brought us to a point where wild and farmed fish occupy equal parts of a complex and confusing marketplace. We stand at the edge of a cataclysm; there is a distinct possibility that our children's children will never eat a wild fish that has swum freely in the sea.
In Four Fish, award-winning writer and lifelong fisherman Paul Greenberg takes us on a culinary journey, exploring the history of the fish that dominate our menus - salmon, sea bass, cod and tuna - and examining where each stands at this critical moment in time. He visits Norwegian mega farms that use genetic techniques once pioneered on sheep to grow millions of pounds of salmon a year. He travels to the ancestral river of the Yupik Eskimos to see the only Fair Trade certified fishing company in the world. He investigates the way PCBs and mercury find their way into seafood; discovers how Mediterranean sea bass went global; Challenges the author of Cod to taste the difference between a farmed and a wild cod; and almost sinks to the bottom of the South Pacific while searching for an alternative to endangered bluefin tuna.
Fish, Greenberg reveals, are the last truly wild food - for now. By examining the forces that get fish to our dinner tables, he shows how we can start to heal the oceans and fight for a world where healthy and sustainable seafood is the rule rather than the exception.
"Starred Review. Hugely informative, sincere and infectiously curious and enthusiastic." - Kirkus Reviews
"In this unusually entertaining and nuanced investigation into global fisheries, New York Times seafood writer Greenberg examines our historical relationship with wild fish." - Publishers Weekly
"A well-written book in the crucially important 'fish-in-danger genre.'" - Library Journal
"Finally we have learned that food is best when produced on a small scale in accordance with the rhythms of our planet. Paul Greenberg's warm and witty Four Fish takes this concept to the ocean. Seafood deserves the same kind of respect and political awareness as food from the land. Maybe more." - Alice Waters
"Four Fish is not only the best analysis I've seen of the current state of both wild and farmed fish - it's a terrific read." - Mark Bittman, author of How to Cook Everything and Food Matters
Reading Guide Questions
What do you think was Greenbergs purpose for writing this book? Do you think he accomplished what he set out to do? What effect if any, will the book have? Will there be any unintended consequences as a result of this book?
Fish farming seems necessary in order not to avoid seafood shortages. Yet, fish farming creates many environmental problems. According to Paul Greenberg, if we continue to feed farmed fish three pounds of ground up wild fish to obtain one pound of farmed salmon, eventually all salmon populations will become unsustainable. Is fish farming (aquaculture) really necessary?
What problems does the author see with salmon farming, as it exists today? Should the government impose regulations on salmon farms? If so, who should enforce these regulations: the Coast Guard, the Dept of Agriculture, Fish and wildlife, the FDA? Since salmon can be imported, would strict regulations only increase the cost to the point where our fish farmers can no longer compete? Will fish farming be taken over by large corporations? Has this happened already?
Paul Greenberg says that fish farming started in Norway during the 1960s. Fish farming, also called aquaculture, is not limited to salt water fish. Ozark Fisheries, founded in 1928, offer tours to groups, but not individuals. The Missouri department of conservation lists 27 commercial fish producers. How many fish farms are registered in your state? Do you think it might be fun to visit a fish farm?
DNA manipulation is one possible solution to the problem of seafood shortages. What are your thoughts on genetically modified foods?
One of the most difficult problems for aqua researchers is, "We dont quite know exactly what is happening in the ocean." Can we find out what is happening in the ocean in time to save the salmon?
In some places, salmon have been successfully reintroduced into local waterways. (Lake Ontario) These waterways may still be polluted to the point where the fish are not suitable to eat. Yet the fish seem to thrive. Do we really accomplish anything by reintroducing wild fish into an environment where their only real purpose is for sport fishing? We know more about salmon than any other fish, yet according to Paul Greenberg, salmon is not the best fish to choose for farming. Can the public be educated enough to switch demand to a better, more eco friendly variety of fish?
The barramundi is suggested as a better species for aquaculture than the sea bass. The research that went into developing and domesticating sea bass was used to make barramundi aquaculture possible. What are the advantages of the barramundi over the other fish now being raised in fish farms? Is the barramundi destined to become the leading source of fish for human consumption in the future? Tilapia seem to be gaining a place at the seafood tale also; should tilapia replace sea bass?
www.seafoodwatch.org publishes what they call a "Select a Seafood Watch Pocket Guide." There are guides for The Northeast, the Southeast, the Southwest, the West Coast, Hawaii and the Central US. The Central US guide contains a list of nineteen different kinds of fish they consider the best choice, fifteen good alternatives, and twenty to avoid. Sea bass is not listed anywhere among the fifty-four varieties. The striped bass is the only best choice listed. Chilean sea bass are severely overfished and most sold in the United States come from boats that are fishing illegally. Do you think that the sea bass Paul Greenberg is talking about is considered a European fish unlikely to be encountered in America? What other reasons can you think of as to why sea bass is not listed anywhere on these guides. Do sea bass really deserve to be considered as one of the top four fish?
Codfish seem to be making a comeback, but much slower than other species being managed. The loss of spawning sites for the cods food due to many dams built across rivers in the Northeast may contribute to the slow comeback. These dams no longer have any purpose, why are these dams not being removed?
The concept of fishermen as herders, rather than hunters, is something Greenberg seems to think would work. Who knows more about fishing management, the fishermen or biologist? Could a lot be accomplished if both groups would exchange and share their knowledge with each other? Lobster fishing has made a comeback. Could the same model used to bring back the Lobsters be adapted to cod?
Suppose a laboratory announced that it had found a way to selectively interbreed all species of fish and that by the process of selective breeding, they should be able to develop "the perfect fish." What would be the characteristics of the perfect fish? Who should have a say about what the "perfect fish" should be like? Would it be a farmed fish or a wild fish or both?
Hoki: a New Zealand fish turned to when cod became too scarce to satisfy supermarket demand has undergone the same overfishing that has happened to the cod. The pollock of Alaska are now the main supermarket fish. Are they doomed to the same fate as the cod and the hoki? How many animals can you think of that have been hunted to extinction? Are any of them sea creatures?
The television series "The Undersea World of Jaque Costeau," was essentially a public relations campaign to "Save the Sea." No doubt, it had some effect, but the sea and its fish are still in trouble. Will people ever accept fish as wildlife to be protected? How far have we come?
In the case of salmon, part of the reason for the decline of wild salmon is the construction of dams across the rivers used for breeding grounds. In the next decade or so, water is expected to become a scarce commodity. At present, our fresh water is stored in reservoirs behind large dams. A lot of evaporation takes place at the surface of these open reservoirs and lakes. There is a movement to tear down the dams and store our fresh water underground, where hardly any evaporation takes place. Do you think that will happen and if it does do you think wild salmon could be reintroduced into the rivers?
Sometimes regulations lead to unintended consequences. Seals are an endangered species. As such, the numbers have increased markedly. Seals eat a lot of cod. Is the slow comeback of cod the result of too many seals?
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Paul Greenberg's seafood writing has appeared in The New York Times, National Geographic, GQ, and many other publications. His 2005 New York Times Magazine article on Chilean sea bass received the International Association of Culinary Professionals' Award for excellence in food journalism, and he has received both a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship and a Food and Society Policy Fellowship.
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