Fish Food for Thought

July 15th, 2010, by PAUL GREENBERG

Photo by Laura Straus.

I really enjoyed talking with Tavis today on the show. When you only have ten minutes to explain things as complicated as the oceans, over-fishing and fish-farming, you always kick yourself after the fact.

“Tavis, I meant Atlantic bluefin tuna,” you say. Or, “Tavis, you can have the salmon–but Alaska wild salmon is better for the environment than farmed Atlantic salmon!”

So I’m really thankful to be able to send a little more fish food for thought after the fact.

First off, the burning question: which fish should I eat? The Monterey Bay Aquarium has an excellent program called “Seafood Watch,” which gives ratings of most of the different seafood out there on the market today.

You can even download a “seafood watch” iPhone app that automatically adjusts for your region and the fish you’re likely to find in your particular marketplace.

(To watch the full interview with Greenberg, click here.)

But what about choosing a good fish restaurant? Charles Clover’s superb “Fish2Fork” site  tells you! In addition to posting some of Charles’ great environmental reporting, it rates restaurants in the US and Europe for their overall fish-friendly-ness. Restaurants that serve endangered fish like Atlantic bluefin tuna should be shamed! Shame on you, Nobu.

All that said, I think it’s important that consumers not only choose the right fish but also fight the right fights. When we choose fish that are environmentally sound it is a good ethical choice, but it is not a substitute for sound environmental policy. A few initiatives which I think need to be supported are:

1) Marine Reserves. Just like the U.S. Forest Service keeps millions of acres of forest in reserve for both environmental and commercial purposes, we need fisheries reserves to help protect the important commercial fish species. Fish need safe places to spawn and at least some places where they are not subject to fishing pressure. We protect around 10% of our land in some way but only about 1% of our sea. Let’s treat the ocean with the same respect we treat the land. Information about Marine Protected Areas–or MPAs as they’re called–can be found at NOAA’s National Marine Protected Areas Center.

2) Good fish farming practices. I’m not against fish farming and, in fact, I can’t be. Fish consumption has nearly doubled per capita in the last 50 years, and the overall world catch has nearly quintupled. The U.N. and the World Bank concluded recently that there are twice as many hooks and nets in the water than we need. So we have to farm fish to keep pace with demand. But we have to farm fish in a way that doesn’t hurt wild fish. WWF’s aquaculture dialogues program is trying to set standards for fish farming around the world, and they deserve our support.

3) Reliable information from the Gulf of Mexico disaster. BP’s control over the oil spill sites needs to be questioned and questioned hard. As the great biologist and writer Carl Safina put it “If you put the murderer in charge of the crime scene, the murderer’s going to hide the body.” And that’s what BP has done by spraying oil dispersants like Correxit into the Gulf. Dispersants make oil more toxic to fish, and BP–in their effort to hide the spill–might have caused even more damage. Carl has been doing outstanding reporting from the Gulf. Follow his work at and also visit the site of the organization he founded, The Blue Ocean Institute. In addition, for people following the future of seafood in the Gulf, Chef’s Collaborative has just published a useful guide.
And, of course, I’m happy to talk with anyone about their fish questions. Drop me a note on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks, and (I’ve always wanted to say this) keep the faith!

Paul Greenberg is an award-winning writer, whose essays, articles and
humor have appeared in
The New York Times Magazine, GQ and
Vogue, among others. His latest book is Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food.

Last modified: April 26, 2011 at 10:56 am