Oceana Magazine Winter 2011: Q&A: Paul Greenberg
Journalist, novelist and lifelong angler Paul Greenberg’s latest book, Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food, explores the history of unsustainable hunting and capture of seafood through the lens of four familiar species: salmon, sea bass, cod and tuna.
The book, which is part history, part memoir and part call-to-action, has won praise from conservationists and foodies alike.
Oceana’s online editor Emily Fisher talked to Greenberg about Four Fish.
Why salmon, sea bass, cod and tuna?
Salmon, usually farmed Atlantic salmon, is like the corn of the sea, grown on every continent now, save Antarctica, even though it historically never lived south of the equator.
Sea bass, that catch-all name that describes so many fish, has become the market niche of the white, meaty fish. The name "bass" itself is a cover for a troubling fish swapping game where we progressively replace depleted species with new ones and give them the same name so that consumers don't notice the swap.
Similarly, cod represents an even more massive example of fish swapping. Only with cod, you're talking about the swapping of literally billions of pounds of fish for a whole array of both farmed and wild fish that fill a similar flesh niche.
Finally I looked at tuna because of the global rise of sushi and what that meant for the wildest part of the ocean – the high seas. Their far-flung peregrinations used to be the thing that saved them from human exploitation but now it's the thing that's leaving them most exposed. It is extremely difficult to regulate the no man's land of international waters, and that, unfortunately, is where tuna often dwell.
Did writing the book change the way you think about seafood and fishing? Do you ever eat fish?
I eat fish all the time and I still fish. But I fish less often and I fish with a very clear understanding that what I am doing when I fish is hunting wild game. I make use of the entire fish when I catch a fish and try to overall kill less fish and use more of the fish that I do kill. I make heads into sauce, bones into stock, and what I can't eat I grind up and use as fertilizer in my garden.
I think that fishing has a real role to play in conservation. If fishermen come to see themselves as stewards as well as hunters, then they can be sentinels who keep watch over the ocean.
What do you think is the most important step that could be taken to stop the unsustainable harvest of our seas?
Individual consumer choice is good but it's not enough. We have to get the big chains to stop buying depleted fish. But over and above that, there are also very important government regulations to think about. We need more marine protected areas – we protect less than 1 percent of our ocean territory versus 10 percent of our land territory. That needs to change.
Anything else you want Oceana readers to know about you or Four Fish?
I would say to every Oceana reader that it's not enough to have this closed echo chamber of marine conservationists talking to one another. There has been a food reform movement going on in this country for nearly 40 years now. We need to tie fish and seafood reform to that groundswell. And, well, I wrote Four Fish to be that bridge between the foodies and the fishies. So if you are a fishie and you know a lot of foodies, try to bring them onboard to the fishie cause.