Paul Greenberg’s fascinating new book Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food, examines the reasons why humans chose to seek out salmon, tuna, bass, and cod, the four staples of our seafood diet, and questions the sustainability of our efforts to continue doing so. I recently lived in Japan for three years, and had my fair share of Toro sashimi, fatty blue fin tuna, along with other delicacies. Having lived in that seafood-based culture, and having fished for salmon myself, I understand the appeal of the current staples of seafood. I was really impressed with the background and the framework with which Greenberg examines these fisheries.
Greenberg grew in Connecticut, fishing along its namesake river (Connecticut comes from the Algonquin word quonehtacut, or ‘long coastal river’), and developed a love of fishing from an early age. He understands fisheries management and aquaculture, and deftly explains how our fisheries came to be in their current state. At root, the book is examining four fish, “Or rather four archetypes of fish flesh which humanity is trying to master in one way or another, either through the management of a wild system, through the domestication and farming of individual species, or through the outright substitution of one species for another.” In fact that is where Four Fish is particularly insightful – Greenberg identifies some potential sustainable aquaculture candidates that are efficient and safe (for both humans and the marine environment), that you probably never heard of, like barramundi and Kona Kampachi.
I recently attended a public hearing about proposed fisheries regulations in Rhode Island, and what became immediately apparent to me was that most of the audience, stakeholders in the fisheries industry, spoke an entirely different language than the fisheries scientists, employees of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM). There were both commercial and recreational fishers of a wide range of aquatic species, ranging from soft-shell clams to cod, stripers to monkfish. Their individual economic incentives often conflicted with each other; party boat captains relied on a large bag limit of tautog, because the state regulations were more liberal than in neighboring states; divers and waders for shellfish fought for different season opening dates, to get an advantage on each other. The fisheries scientists spoke of maintaining sustainable fisheries through regulation, while the fishermen complained they would be unable to make a profit with ‘micromanagement.’
Greenberg’s Four Fish examines the economic aspects of fisheries as well, and he recommends that artisan fishers replace factory trawlers; subsidized fishing fleets should go away and in their place, respectful fishermen-herders who will steward the species as well as catch them. He also argues that blue fin tuna and other species that travel across oceans are unmanageable, and should be protected like tigers and whales. Having seen the Japanese fish markets, I know how difficult that will be, but mercury-laden tuna is simply not sustainable or manageable. Here in Rhode Island, fishermen at the hearing spoke of resources and jobs; while they may sometimes disagree with the fisheries scientists, both will need to work together in the long term to create sustainable fisheries, sustainable jobs, and sustainable seafood. Ultimately, that will require “a profound reduction in fishing effort,” and open-minded consumers.