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In the NYTimes today, Mark Bittman writes about the perilous condition our oceans are in from the vantage of a seafood eater (the graphic at left was published by the Times to accompany the article). Having been thinking recently about how and why the conditions of our oceans fail to fully capture our imaginations in the same way our methods of raising livestock and corn do, I was glad to see it.  Here's how it opens:

"I suppose you might call me a wild-fish snob. I don’t want to go into a fish market on Cape Cod and find farm-raised salmon from Chile and mussels from Prince Edward Island instead of cod, monkfish or haddock. I don’t want to go to a restaurant in Miami and see farm-raised catfish from Vietnam on the menu but no grouper.

"Those have been my recent experiences, and according to many scientists, it may be the way of the future: most of the fish we’ll be eating will be farmed, and by midcentury, it might be easier to catch our favorite wild fish ourselves rather than buy it in the market."

Read the article—it's quick and concise.  The hope lies of course in a brutally obvious, but for Americans seemingly impossible, course of action: Don't spend more than you make.  Or, don't capture more fish more than the oceans produce.  Fisheries throughout the world must practice sustainable fishing or they will not survive, and we will lose a fundamental source of pleasure, diversity, and healthfulness in our diets.

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26 Wonderful responses to “The Future of Fish”

  • Laurence

    I kinda sorta wanna agree with Bittman, but the logical conclusion of this will be much higher prices for fish, which means less affluent people will be the main losers of “a fundamental source of pleasure, diversity, and healthfulness” in their diets.

    The fundamentals are that it’s impossible to provide enough of the ethical/sustainable/blah blah food for New York City, let alone everyone on the planet, so other ways have to be found to feed humans. Do the math on production, where it’s produced, distribution, etc. and all the warm fuzzy food politics falls apart, except for the elite minority, with their borderline “let them eat cake” attitude. Any improvements will only be at the margins.

  • Tags


    The elites are the ones saying “leave the system alone” as well as “I got mine, Jack.”

  • carri

    We are on the front lines of this issue living in an Alaskan fishing community for 20+ years and have seen the management of these fisheries become more focused.The Halibut fishermen here were some of the first to implement an individual quota system where shares are bought in order to fish. Allocating shares and getting the details worked out was a very painful process but one that not only made the industry safer, it also allowed for there to be a fresher, higher quality product on the market for more of the year. The salmon industry is limited in a different way, the biggest problem being not enough processors on the grounds to handle the incoming fish, so they put the fishermen on limits and keep alot of fish off the market that could be sold. The fishermen themselves are working harder than ever to deliver a high quality product. I think the biggest enemy here is the corporate trawlers that operate outside lawful boudaries, dumping their bycatch and all the garbage back in the ocean and overfishing without any oversight. DON”T trust the ‘Gordon’s’ fisherman!

  • Cameron S.

    I will use an example of wild Salmon. Here on the coastal waters of British Columbia, the salmon fisheries are controlled by a few very wealthy people, who also control the canneries and processing plants. The boats that do go out do not always follow the rules, and consequently many non commercial types of salmon and other fish die in the process. It is quite wasteful.

    The Alaskan example of stewardship does give me hope. I have fished salmon for 32 of my 37 years and have always enjoyed the taste of wild food. Whether foraging morels, pine mushrooms, fiddleheads, or eating moose, venison, trout, halibut or salmon – I have always had a real connection to the wild. It helps that it has been a tasty connection.

    I agree with Carri completely. Foreign fisheries and corporate trawlers odon’t really care about anything in many cases and are strip mining much of the ocean around the world. This needs to change.

    There is other alternatives to fisheries boats for salmon that should be discussed. Around these parts people discuss that it might be far better to move to processing the salmon in a controlled fashion slightly up the river in fish ladders but that would change the game too much for those that benefit from the commercial fishing with nets approach. This system would ensure both accurate counting of the fish stocks, but also precisely controlled harvesting.

    The oceans play a vital or even keystone role for overall planetary health and are intrinsically linked with our own survival.

  • Tags


    Check out “Whale Wars” on Animal Planet, about the Sea Shepherd folks.

  • Matthew Pennington

    I don’t think anyone can look at the state of agriculture today and come up with a conclusion which does not include large food shortages across the world in the relatively near future. The “warm fuzzy” food politics which people like Bittman, Pollan, and our own Ruhlman espouse are actually attempts to mitigate the effects of the eventual collapse of our petroleum-fueled monoculture subsistence. Pretending that 1) having wealth will not aid the West in this transition and 2) that people throughout the world will not suffer greatly from this is not going to help anything or anyone.

  • Peter Steinberg

    I have to say — it seems to me that no matter what we do, all forms of sustenance are going to get stretched thinner and thinner… as long as the world population keeps growing. Might we be reaching the population limits of what our planet can sustainably support?

    Peter
    FlashlightWorthy.com
    Recommending books so good, they’ll keep you up past your bedtime. 😉

  • gale

    I guess I am trying to figure out what the first poster is whining about ‘let them eat cake’, etc. Bittman is saying that we should broaden our fish eating habits and manage world wide fisheries better so that fifty years (or a lot less) there still are viable fisheries throughout the world. Depleting the oceans of sardines, anchovies, etc. for fish meal doesn’t make much sense. The successful Alaska efforts to manage their fisheries makes a lot. Carri and Cameron are so right.

  • Rhonda

    Cameron S:

    Thank you for your post. I am a fish snob and go to Steveston to get fish right off the boats. Am I accidentally shitting where I eat?

    I THOUGHT I was doing a good thing. How can I tell the “good” fisherman from the bad?

  • Laurence

    @Gale: Hardly whining. Just wondering how “we” are going to “manage” fisheries to supply enough fish of any size for even as many as 10% of the world’s population. Bravo to the Alaskans for managing their fisheries, but how many people can survive paying $23/pound for Copper River Salmon?

    There’s only so many fish in the sea. “Managing” almost certainly means taking less. Less supply means higher prices. Boutique food for the affluent, dreck for the rest? Fish farming offers a rational option and more choices for feeding the rest of us, but I don’t need a lecture from Bittman et al on why I should feel guilty about not buying food *I* can’t afford.

  • carri

    The heartbreaking part of the Salmon harvest is that, sure, you have your copper river kings that sell for $23 a pound, but there is an abundance of bristol bay red salmon (While not as prized as kings are a really tasty fish) that never gets harvested because there’s no one willing to bring in enough processing during the run to take advantage of all the fish available once they reached their escapement quotas. The one good thing (I can’t believe I’m saying this) Sarah Palin has done here is to open the dialog to invite foreign processors in to help with the harvest…more sustainble fish for the world is out there, it just has to be done right!

  • carri

    One more thing…regulation, while it has led to what seems to be a well managed fishery for the Halibut industry, has had an interesting effect on how we procure seafood for our family to eat. Before, we could get a fish off the boat my husband fished on for personal use after a commercial halibut ‘opener’. Now with every pound being counted by NMFS officers (they have uniforms and guns and watch the whole unloading process) we have to go out and catch our own for sport if we want some for dinner or to put up for winter!

  • chadzilla

    It’s so great to see this issue becoming more of an issue. Perhaps we are not too far off from the powers that be to actually notice it. It seems to have been swept under the rug for so long.

  • luis

    This has been a megatrend and nature can not fight back against the technology. We can exterminate every living thing in the planet.
    How much is enough??? This is almost too much to take in.. Really. Way too much. The changes in this world are too fast and furious and devastating. Damm in the 3 secs of evolutionary time we all dwell in the instabillity of the systems is far too much over the top. I don’t need a play by play of the destruction of farmland or rain forests.. or the oceans for that matter…. enough! you are killing me man…

  • JB in San Diego

    Any idea what happened in the late 70’s, early 80’s to cause an upward (or level) trend on all the graphs?

  • Scott

    Its not great to think about only farmed fish since most studies indicate that they may not be all that great for us.

  • Cameron S.

    Rhonda – the Steveston dock is an example of a good thing in that the boat owners are locally based and I have heard they have a healthy long term view towards their industry.

  • jacqueline

    Michael, I am launching my round up of my annual sustainable seafood event. We take into account success stories of fish such as swordfish. Nearly extinct not long ago, the efferts of chefs Moonen & Ripert et al. allowed stocks to recover and now we know how to harvest it sustainably.

    I have an entire page of resources (guides for most places around the world, websites, videos, articles and recipes) as well as recipes, photos, stories from home cooks trying to make better choices for their families and the planet, as well as top chefs and award-winning food writers.

    Site launch is any minute. I’ll post re-direct and stop back to share URL.

  • Joni

    I’m a recent Ruhlman fan and, in fact, received my first Ruhlman book today (A Return to Cooking). What a treat to visit the blog and find a great post like this one. It’s important that more chefs/restaurant owners/food industry professionals recognize how critical this issue is. The world needs protein, fishermen need jobs, we all need sustainability – these are all important issues. But without a balanced marine ecosystem — the health of the entire planet is at stake. If we continue to decimate ocean resources – at this rate we’re looking at a planet consisting of 71% pond scum. This is not tree-hugging, liberal propaganda – this is scientific fact. I too can’t understand why the beauty of marine life and its importance to the planet’s ecosystems fails to capture our imaginations and to inspire us all to be good stewards of the ocean and the planet. If we want our children to enjoy the same bounty as we’ve enjoyed – we all need to recognize that we’ve gone beyond pushing the limits and it’s time to back off. Ecosystems and species can recover given a chance.

  • Kanani

    Carri, I go to your café when I’m in Homer (inevitably, I end up fishing). You rock. Absolutely. You’re the real deal.

  • Michele Niesen

    I agree with Joni. This is an everyman’s deal. We need to back off. Get on the bean and legume train. Nothing is more sustainable than that. I know, I know. What about my Omega rich protein. Sure. Well, travel through Central America or India and you’ll see entire populations living and growing without ever seeing a King Salmon. You won’t perish without it. But unfortunately the fish will perish if they don’t get a breather. And then it’s game over.

    But aside from the navel gazing liberal fuzz nuts of the now down trodden “elite” and “educated” (when did that become such a four letter word?) We have to figure out a way to bring the message to everyone. Not just the Greenmarketers buying the single vineyard arugula stuffed goat cheese. There is a HUGE chasm of mis-education out there. Even the folks who talk the talk don’t really know what’s up. And the uneducated? Don’t get me started. I’ve lived in urban areas my whole life and am now in a very rural one. It’s like being on the moon.

    Sustainable. Hmmm, what does that mean? We hear it daily–is it bamboo or hemp. Is it mackeral or tilapia. Farm raised or wild? Does it mean it’s okay, or is it as big a loop hole as “organic”. As a chef and an owner (until last year) of a small boutique restaurant that could afford to take the time and charge the money for the day boat this and the copper river that–I was continually surprised at how many people just don’t give a crap. If they have the $ they think it’s their god given right to eat the good stuff –Poor people don’t consider much more than, well, price. And who can blame them? Who can worry about sustaining fish when you’re trying to figure out how to sustain your family.

    We’re doing it wrong. In France for example, there are rich and poor, but they all get access to the same good food. Why are we only letting the organic buffalo yogurt out to the mook who’ll pay $5 for it? That’s good old fashioned caste system. Let’s figure out the next step. I think we’ve established the problem. And no the government is probably NOT going to help us.

    I see a couple ways out of this…eat less, grow something, shine the light on the bad corporate entities. If a bunch of old Frenchmen can overthrow a McDonald’s chain, we certainly can do something. Lining the pockets of Whole Foods is not a way out.

  • carri

    Kanani, it’s awsome to have a cheerleader out there in cyberland…next time you come to Homer to fish, come say Hey!

  • Jacqueline

    Michael: there’s the link to the round up.
    37+ recipes from 9 chefs and bloggers and home cooks in 10 countries. Separate listing of resources includes articles, organizations, videos, more recipes, additional links.

    Cheers,
    Jacqueline Church [dot] com

    Keller is being honored at next year’s Cooking for Solutions and AB is back.