Four Fish explores the state of commercial fishing and aquaculture. Paul Greenberg, a lifelong fisherman, writes about four fish: salmon, sea bass, cod and tuna, but also about marine life. A very good overview of the state of wild fisheries and fish farms through the eyes of someone who genuinely cares about fish and fishing
- Salmon, a beautiful silvery animal with succulent pink flesh, is dependent upon clean, free-flowing freshwater rivers. It is representative of the first wave of human exploitation. Domestication had to be launched to head off extinction.
- Sea bass, a single white, meaty-fleshed animal called the European sea bass, represents the near-shore shallow waters of our coasts. Even more sophisticated form of domestication to maintain fish supplies.
- Cod, a white, flaky-fleshed animal.
- Tuna, a family of lightning-fast, sometimes thousand-pound animals with red, steaklike flesh that frequent the distant deepwater zones beyond the continental slope. Some tuna cross the breadth of the oceans, and nearly all tuna species range across waters that belong to multiple nations or no nation at all.
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.
With wild fish we have chose, time after time, to ignore the fundamental limits the laws of nature place on ecosystems and have consistently removed more fish than can be replaced by natural processes.
Salmon: The selection of a king
So when it comes to salmon, the modern experience is a paradoxical mix of two phenomena:
At one pole is the contemporary seafood counter, blooming like some kind of irrepressible orange rose, overflowing with fresh farmed Atlantic salmon fillets. These salmon are grown in monocultures as uniform and calculated as any animal feedlot and are the product of some of the earliest experiments in modern aquaculture. Because they lay large, oily eggs, visible to the naked eye, salmon are far easier to spawn and raise in captivity than many other common food fish, which lay small, nearly microscopic eggs. The aquaculture companies operating in the frigid fjords of southern Chile now produce almost as much salmon per year as all the world’s wild salmon rivers combined.
At the other pole of the salmon experience is the vanishing tail of wildness. In their Atlantic range, salmon have declined drastically throughout most of Europe, New England, and Atlantic Canada. In the Pacific the half dozen species and hundreds of genetically distinct strains of wild salmon are slipping away, river by river. What is left to us now are the two last primeval salmon territories: the wilds of eastern Russia and the forty-ninth American state of Alaska.
Sea bass: The Holiday Fish Goes to Work
The decline of wild fish stocks in the Mediterranean in the last half century and the subsequent attempt to repopulate the sea through aquaculture is a stack forewarning of what could happen all over the world as the oceans in general become oligotrophic—containing little nourishment for everybody.
Witness the European sea bass. It is a failure in every category:
- They should be hardy. European sea bass are not, lay over a million eggs, but out of this plentitude only one or two become viable adults.
- They should have an inborn liking for man. Sea abass is at best indifferent to us.
- They should be comfort-loving. They are responsive to easily available food, but many hate containment.
- They should breed freely.
- They should be easy to tend. Sea bass, when they are born, are distinctly unprepared for life.
Cod: the return of the commoner
The British Department of Health suggests that a person should eat a minimum of two servings of fish per week—one serving of oily fish, like salmon, and one serving of whitefish, like cod.
So if every single human being were to do what the British government says we should do, we would require 230 billion pounds a year
White fish today represent about a fifth of the world catch, or the whole human weight of the United States.
It is not just overfishing that decimated cod. The destruction of cod’s prey also played a crucial part.
Today in most of Europe, two-thirds of all cod are eaten during the three-month spawning migration, or wandering cod, the last truly healthy stock of wild cod in Europe.
Tuna: One last bite
Atlantic bluefin are the biggest and slowest-growing of the tunas; the Western stock can take more than seven years to reach sexual maturity and considerably longer to become giants—that is, the five-hundred-plus-pound spawners that many biologists feel are the key reproductive engines of bluefin populations.
Today the passion to save bluefin is as strong as the one to kill them, and these dual passions are often contrained within the body of a single fisherman.
As bluefin get more and more valuable on the market-place (prices for a single fish have topped 150,000 dollars) the commercial fishermen who pursue them get more and more twisted in their behaviour.
How to find a balance between human desire and ocean sustainability:
1.- One should favour fish caught by small-scale hook-and-line fishers because of the lower impact on sea beds and underwater reefs.
2.- That when choosing aquacultured fish one should choose vegetarian fish, like tilapia and carp, because of the lower strain they put on marine food webs.