I love seafood. However, I live in arid West Texas, a place where good seafood is nonexistent, for both geographic and cultural reasons. What passes for a seafood restaurant here is (shudder) Red Lobster, and the fishmongers at local grocery stores just give you a blank stare when you ask about wild-caught Copper River salmon. Despite these difficulties, I am very (perhaps perversely) interested in the natural history of the seafood that is impossible for me to get, and Paul Greenberg's "Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food" is appetizer, main dish and dessert for curious pescetarians.
The four fish of the title are salmon, bass, tuna and cod, which are today the world's dominant wild-caught and farmed fish. Mr. Greenberg devotes a long chapter to each of these finned culinary staples. He ties their stories together by showing how each represents one discrete step that humanity has taken, sometimes over hundreds or thousands of years, to increase and control the tasty, nutritious largess of the sea. Salmon, for example, depend on clean, cold, free-flowing freshwater rivers, and was likely the first fish that early northern-hemisphere humans exploited. Sea bass, which inhabit shallow waters close to shore, were the catch of choice when Europeans first learned how to fish in the ocean. Cod live further out, off the continental shelves many miles offshore, and were the first fish subject to industrial-scale fishing by mammoth factory ships. Tuna live yet further out, in the deep oceans between the continents, and represent the last food fish that has not yet been "domesticated."
Mr. Greenberg uses footnoted historical and scientific information from academic reports and other sources, as well as his personal experiences and interviews with some colorful fishing industry characters, to build detailed and informative pictures of the state of these four fish in the world today. These are factual, balanced treatments of subjects that are practically guaranteed to set environmentalists, government regulators, fishermen and consumers at each others' throats in the dynamic, complicated world of modern large-scale aquaculture. He shows how issues such as sustainability, wild-caught vs. farmed fish, the environmental effects of fish farms, growth in consumer demand, concentrations of harmful pollutants in fish, etc., are all interrelated in an incredibly complex web of dependencies. Easing one problem invariably worsens others, and there are really no easy answers to the question of how we can best manage our production and consumption of these four fish to assure their safety, availability and future viability.
It's not a hopeless future. Mr. Greenberg offers some things we can do to mend our troubled relationship with the oceans and the life within them. Whether you agree with his conclusions or not, you should still find "Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food" to be an interesting and informative read. I recommend it highly if you have the slightest interest in finding out more about the fish on your plate.
Mankind has often looked upon the ocean as a bountiful place capable of providing a near-endless supply of food. We even sort of romanticize those who brave the elements, from Moby Dick and yesterday's whalers to today's "Deadliest Catch." And for reasons of abundance or convenience or perhaps just taste, we've settled upon four main fish which serve as our principal "seafood": salmon, bass, cod, and tuna. But, as fishing has become increasingly commercial and efficient, we're in danger of destroying the wild populations of these fish and the ecosystems they depend upon and that are dependent upon them.
Paul Greenburg has written an excellent and surprisingly readable book about our relationship with the sea and its bounty. He does this not from a solely environmentalist perspective, but also as a fisherman and one who enjoys eating fish. He discusses the advantages of wild vs. farmed fish - the destructive practices of each which imperil future stocks. With farming, in particular, the four are very poor candidates for captive rearing (although the lessons learned so far have been essential and can be applied elsewhere). He also explores potential replacements against a checklist of qualities that should ensure greater success (the same qualities that have been proven in terrestrial farming).
I was *very* surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. I've never been a huge eater of seafood, although I've recently begun ordering it more often when we eat out. But I most appreciated the scientific aspect of the book that seeks to find the best possible balance, moving beyond the simple red or green seafood cards to maximizing a sustainable harvest while protecting resources. He acknowledges there are no easy answers, but leans a little too heavily on regulation as if illegal poaching wouldn't increase with such measures. But overall, an important read for all those who are concerned about the future of the oceans and the last wild food.
Paul Greenberg's "Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food" is an insightful, entertaining, and compelling natural history and social commentary on the current state of commercial fishing, fish farming, recreational fishing, and worldwide fisheries management. The vast scope of this work is simplified by focusing on the four most popular eating fish: salmon, tuna, bass, and cod. In the process, the reader gains a solid overview of the topic. The book is packed with fascinating technical, scientific, social and historical details, but at no time did I feel overwhelmed...in fact, just the opposite: I could hardly put the book down. I was stunned to discover that "Four Fish" is a page-tuner!
The last time I found a natural history that was so compelling, it was Michael Pollan's "Omnivore's Dilemma." While I don't think this book will become another worldwide nonfiction bestseller like that one did, I would not be surprised to see it turned into a feature National Geographic Channel documentary. After all, the author is extremely engaging and a writer who frequently writes for that magazine.
The author's writing is personal, direct, honest, and easy-going. Reading the book felt like sitting down with a brilliant, enthusiastic buddy and listening to him tell you about the subject that commands his greatest passion. The book is full of delightful stories based on fascinating people who Greenberg interviewed and observed during the course of researching this book. Much of the scientific and technical information is passed on to the reader through artful, true-to-life storytelling. His stories unfold naturally and often overflow with humor and wit. There is a comfortable balance between the light and serious section. The later contain detailed facts, thoughtful philosophical, ethical, and personal reflections, and heartfelt recommendations.
The author demonstrates a wealth of knowledge on this topic gained from thorough academic research, in-depth interviews, and life-long personal experience as an avid recreational fisherman. The book has an extensive bibliographical notes section at the end with useful annotations.
This book should appeal to a wide audience of readers with diverse backgrounds and motivations. I am not a fisherman and have no connection to the fishing industry. My interest in the topic derives from my love of eating fish and my concern about the future of the species. I have recently taken college-level courses on this topic, and completed a semester-long independent study of wild versus farmed salmon. Greenberg's book provided me with a wealth of new and exciting information.
I hope the book sells well. It is vitally important that as many people as possible learn about the future of fish, our last widely consumed wild food. Through knowledge and appropriate action, people can make a difference. It may still be possible to save the oceans and rivers of the world and the wild fish that inhabit them.
Paul Greenberg presents both problems and alternative solutions in his new book, Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food. Greenberg presents the history and current situation with four fish: salmon, cod, tuna and bass. He explores sustainability and the issue of wild and farmed fish. He presents what he calls four clearly achievable goals for wild fish: a reduction in fishing effort; no-catch areas of the ocean; protect unmanageable species, and protect the bottom of the food chain. This is a readable and informative presentation of an interesting issue. Any reader who's interested in fish, science or more knowledge about what we eat, will likely enjoy this book.
Rating: Three-star (Recommended)
This book is a brilliant step-back overview of the state of our fisheries. Although I felt like I was pretty knowledgeable on the subject, my eyes have been opened up to deeper level of complexity than I had ever considered. Especially on the economic and market driven side of the issue.
Perhaps, the best thing about this book is that it is not a pulpit the author uses to preach what you should or should not eat. Nor does it ask that the reader guiltily end all fish eating. What it is, is a contextual history of our relationship with seafood from the earliest day to the present where we find ourselves facing a lot of decisions regarding fishing and fish farming.
The narrative is centered on four fish that do a good job of capturing the story of fish and man.
Salmon- probably our first food fish, and our first foray into global, industrial fish farming.
European Sea Bass - our first complete victory in closing the circle on a marine fishes life cycle in captivity. As the author says, a Rosetta Stone to unlocking the propogation for nearly all species
Cod and Tuna - two examples that show that we are not doing the best to manage our fisheries, and how we may be misguided in our attempts to farm fish in general.
These four fish do a great job of illustrating how aquaculture has been driven by forces of economy, market, and tradition more than logic, reason, or science. These species has been chosen for domestication more for their pound for pound economic value rather than its compatibility to being farmed.
Using these four main characters, and a supporting cast of other species, the author demonstrates the failures, successes, and potential of human management of wild and domesticated stocks of fish. That is another joy of this book, it is not a doom and gloom look at our future, it is a reasoned and hopeful view of what we can do. And while it does not exactly spell out a plan, it does put forth a strong framework of how we can manage this resource and stop spending our principal, but live off the interest the ocean can return and the profits of intelligent aquaculture.
I'll never look at a fish on a plate the same again.
An insightful look at the last wild species that humans hunt in any quantity, the collapses of over-exploited populations, and the domestication of some of those animals.
This volume is timely, arriving when many marine ecosystems are past their tipping points, with threats coming from every direction, even as humans continue to harvest or destroy vast amounts of sealife as if the ocean was an inexhaustible resource. The collapse of fishery after fishery, high-value species replaced by lower-valued ones, commercial extinctions commonplace, and actual extinctions looming-- none of this seems to make an impression on peoples who largely act without any enlightened self-interest (ie, the cumulative effect of their individual actions, or anticipation of the predictable future). I fully expect that the next generation will rarely eat wild-caught fish, and certainly not of the profusion and bounty we've seen in seafood markets in the last century.
Greenberg's writing is full of well-researched information, but is at its most compelling when he relates his personal experience and history, and bogs down when he wanders too far off-topic into the background material, such as the discussion of Greece's desire for home-grown industry (part of his background on the farming of sea bass). The narrative would flow much more readily with more streamlined asides and introductions, since these distract from the serious issues surrounding the wholesale, and possibly permanent changes, we are causing to wild ecosystems, to sate our appetites for seafood.
Recommended for the in-depth look at the serious issues resulting from the collision of marine ecosystems and man's need to consume seafood from the top of the chain down, but you'll need to stay focused to get through some of the denser sections.
on June 7, 2010
The question Greenberg is most often asked is "What fish should I eat?" and in Four Fish he shows how difficult that question is. We all know wild salmon is better than farmed, but is that still true in 2010? Greenberg has some surprising answers. The book is strongest talking about the future of fish (which is the subtitle) and I learned a lot about fish farming, omega-3's, fish engineering, etc.. Greenberg is not limited to just four fish as he looks at a lot of "substitute" fish such as Tilapia. He seems to briefly touch on and update lots of commonly perceived wisdom about fish with the latest developments. For example the status of the Cod grounds off New England which have been closed since the collapse in the early 1990s.
Greenberg is a "seafood writer" (journalist) and this is his first book, previously he has written for magazines. His pedigree is a New England sports fisherman. The book is not "helicopter journalism" (writing outside field of expertise), it's not "green journalism" (although he does call it a "fish in trouble book"). Greenberg personally, and for enjoyment, spends time on party boats, gets up at 3am for Canyon tuna runs, while spewing his guts out in 5 foot seas and reeling in a barrel sized tuna. He doesn't make a big deal of it, but anyone whose done these things themselves will appreciate Greenberg's perspective as a sports fisherman. He believes small scale fisherman make better stewards of fish stock than large scale factory ships.
I'd recommend the book to anyone who fishes, in particular in the northeast since that is where some of the anecdotal stories are set - but Greenberg also travels to Vietnam, Norway, Alaska, Hawaii. If you've ever asked what fish to eat, this is a deeper and more nuanced answer that should also provide plenty of table talk. Finally it's just a breezy and enjoyable way to learn more about the current status of "fish in trouble", what's being done, and what to expect in the future. I came away cautiously optimistic about the future of fish.
on April 14, 2014
The ocean is the last frontier ...and like the Wild West, what the hunters are doing to the local biota is shocking and tragic.
This book is a great way to start exploring what is actually happening on the open seas are regards fishing. Think of clear-cutting and old growth forests.
The nice thing is, Paul Greenberg likes fishermen, likes fishing, likes the culture of fishing -- so in a miracle of great writing and clear headed analysis, he's able to delve into this subject and reveal the potential for incipient extinction without alienating the people who put food on the table both for their families and for the rest of us.
My take home? It will be a long time before I eat tuna again, if ever.
The bigger take home? We need to find a way to work together across national borders to protect numerous fish species from being eaten into extinction.
Good writing is the first step.
on February 5, 2014
I love the way this guy talks. His childhood stories flow seamlessly into the story of all humanity in relation to sea creatures. The book's structure builds both forward in time and outward into ever-deeper water. I'd seen some deeply disturbing accounts about our systematic destruction of the sea. But this was a far more conversationally problem-solving approach, considering the merits of various practical experiments to manage fish better. I was fascinated to learn of bright spots, where people make some promising possibilities happen.
A lot of the book concerns learning what works, and what doesn't in sustainably farming fish. Greenberg shows, for example, that while farming of tra or tilapia shows enormous potential, attempts to farm carnivorous cod, tuna and probably even salmon, are moderately to totally counterproductive. In talking to the people actually trying these things, Greenberg has a learning adventure that's a pleasure to read.
on December 13, 2013
I was raised on the coast and over the years witnessed some truly scary changes, some species of once abundant fish virtually disappeared, coves filled in and changed the habitat of everything from oysters, blue crabs, quahogs, eels among other marine life. Their ecosystem was turned upside down in a very short period of time and many species disappeared. If you are interested in the marine environment, or want to know why farmed fish - especially salmon - are much different than those in their natural habitat. The world is changing, but many of those changes have serious consequences.