on 28 October 2010
This book should be essential reading. It has had very little press coverage since it's publication (at least in the U.K.) and I only found out about it after Ben Macintyre's editorial on Tuna fishing during which he recommended it.
The subject matter is the overfishing of Salmon, Cod, Seabass and Tuna and the history of how these four fish became the frontline of humanity's marine dietry requirements. But make no mistake - this isn't purely an academic look at declining stocks. Nor is it a hysterical propaganda advocating the complete stop on all commercial fishing. Paul Greenberg's book is accessible to everyone and is a very measured, facsinating and important read. He is obviously a lover of the sea and all that is in it but - having spend a number of years fishing himself - he has a balanced and realistic view on the problem of the increase in the human population and it's effect on fish stocks. He looks at the fish farming industries and their effect not just from a stock point of view but also an ecological one. He debates differing ideas on prolonging the stock of these fish (and others) and has his own very valid thoughts on our future role as herders of fish stocks rather than blindly plundering what is there.
The chapter on bluefin Tuna is chilling - but then it should be. But even here Greenberg looks at what we can do to assist stocks and alternative sustainable solutions rather than suggesting an unrealistic ban on all tuna fishing.
Lively, witty, entertaining, sometimes sad but with an infective positive outlook from the planet's last wild food source - this is a great book and definitely worth reading.
on 17 April 2012
This is a beautifully written, provocative, illuminating investigation into our relationship with the sea. Greenberg builds the book around our use (or rather, misuse) of four iconic fish species: salmon, sea bass, cod and tuna. It reads like a novel, but is crammed with facts and figures - For example, we are currently harvesting a staggering 90 million tons of wild fish every year, but if we were to follow the UK governments recommendation and all eat two portions of fish every week this harvest would need to increase by 60 billion pounds.
Of course, fishing at even the current rate is unsustainable, and the result has been the crashing of stocks around the world. For the four species of Greenberg's book the response to demand outstripping supply has been ever more intense exploitation and the development of aquaculture - fish farming. Greenberg unpicks the problems with both approaches. The problem of overfishing is obvious, but fish farming doesn't fare much better. None of the four species under consideration is by nature a good candidate for domestication, and each of them present serious environmental and welfare problems. We are also left with the crazy situation where even salmon, highly selectively bred to be efficient growers, need to be fed three pounds of wild fish in order to produce one pound of salmon flesh for the table.
Greenberg's conclusion urges that fishing for wild fish should be done only by small-scale, highly environmentally aware local fisherman, and that fish farming needs to take a radically different approach to the one that has so far been popular. Rather than taking species with which we are already familiar, and trying to domesticate them, we should instead select species that are better candidates for domestication, and learn to eat them. This is already beginning to happen with barramundi, tilapia, tra and kahala - all of which are highly efficient producers of protein. Now what is needed is radical action, similar to that which ended whaling, to safeguard the future of many of our wild fish.
Books like this tend to be pessimistic, but Greenberg strikes some positive notes. The vastness of the ocean and the inherent ability of marine life to regenerate means it may not be too late, if only bold moves are made soon. In the meanwhile, this is the sort of book that all consumers of fish should read (and even if the only fish product you ever eat is a fish finger you are most definitely a fish consumer). It will probably put you off buying farmed salmon or sea bass, or a tuna steak or cod & chips, but that in itself is no bad thing. And if it encourages you to pick up a rod and go catch your own mackerel, then that would be no bad thing either, for as Greenberg demonstrates, there is no one who loves a fish so much as someone who has had the pleasure of catching one.
on 4 October 2010
This is an entertaining and superbly well written investigation into the important issue of the management and preservation of wild fish stocks and the effects of the rapid growth of aquaculture/fish farming .
Paul Greenberg is a gifted writer who's enormous passion for his subject is matched by his understanding of the science, politics and economics of the issues.
Consumer choice is a powerful force that drives the economics of fishing practices and aquaculture. This book will inform the choices you make when you buy fish and, in doing that, will make a difference.
on 6 February 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 24 June 2012
Half of all fish caught in the North Sea are thrown back overboard DEAD it says on the front page of celebrity chef's Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's campaign website to change European laws governing this industry. After a visit to one of his restaurants last year when I left my email address I was invited to sign up as a supporter last year. Now more that 755,000 people have.
I did so without having to think hard because I had seen his Chicken Out campaign in 2008 and agreed with its objectives. This campaign has changed the way that people shop, Mr Fearnley Whittingstall claims. I believe he is correct and all c-store operators who stock any chicken - or fish - need to be aware of the provenance of the food they sell.
You may disagree. I have visited some great shops where people aspire only to cheap extruded snacks and cheap beer. But as a c-store retailer you need to understand your market positioning: what your shop stands for and what it does not.
If you agree with this then The Fish on Your Plate, a book by Paul Greenberg just published in paperback by Penguin, will provide you with an entertaining and informative read. There are five things you will observe:
The power of supermarkets
The power of industry lobbies
The problems of labelling
The way consumers think
There are only four types of fish!
Mr Greenberg is a journalist who has fished since childhood. He writes well. His book is divided into four chapters on salmon, sea bass, cod and tuna. Mankind, he asserts, eat four types of meat: beef, pork, lamb and goat and four types of fowl: chicken, turkey, duck and goose. It is the same with fish.
However, fish are wild food and not domesticated. Farming salmon does not make sense. But salmon is too important to be let alone. "Most supermarkets would not even have a seafood section if it was not for salmon," one salmon farmer told him.
A problem campaigners for fish welfare face is the power of big manufacturers and supermarkets to get what they want. "Never get between a fat hog and a trough," one friend advises Mr Greenberg. "He'll run you over every time."
The book explains how the supermarkets need all year round reliable supplies. The Marine Stewardship Council's certification process may improve fish welfare but it is full of loopholes.
Consumers think in a binary way. Something is either good or bad. Traffic light systems don't work. For example, people don't eat whalemeat as whales are considered wild animals. People do eat bluefin tuna as it is a seafood.
Before reading this book, if you had asked me if John West tinned bluefin tuna, I would have said I don't know. Today, I know for sure it doesn't. "We have never been in the bluefin tuna business", it says on its website.
The book is full of great stories that will help you to think about how your shop works in a range of different industries. You will be able to think about how to better present what you sell. This is also a book that will add energy to your life. It gives more than it takes.
on 9 March 2011
The acquaculture debate is rarely even-handed. Depending upon protagonists convictions they will talk singly about: the drastic overfishing of our stocks, the evils of fish farming, the need for cheap protein for the developing world. Greenberg does an admiral job of bringing balance to the debate. He is sensitive to all sides of the argument and approaches the issues as a pragmatist rather than an idealist.
He manages to achieve all of this while also writing a thoroughly engaging colourful book.
This book is a must for anyone who is concerned about managing our seas.