'Four Fish': Author Paul Greenberg on saving the world's wild seafood
A review of Paul Greenberg's new book, "Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food," an eloquent examination of the sorry state of the world's wild seafood, which proposes some thoughtful solutions. Greenberg appears at two Seattle area locations this week, including Tuesday at Seattle's University Book Store and Wednesday at the Blue Acre Seafood restaurant.
Seattle Times environment reporter
Paul GreenbergThe author of "Four Fish" will discuss his book at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Seattle's University Book Store; free (206-634-3400 or www.ubookstore.com).
Greenberg will also appear at a reception and dinner celebrating the publication of "Four Fish." At 6 p.m. Wednesday at Blueacre Seafood Restaurant, 1700 Seventh Ave., Seattle; $55 cost includes tax, gratuity, 3-course Yukon salmon dinner and a signed copy of "Four Fish." For more information contact lizette@blueacre seafood.com.
'Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food'
by Paul Greenberg
Penguin Press, 304 pp., $25.95
After 200-plus pages spent unspooling the sorry fate of some of the world's most popular seafood — the virtual elimination of wild Atlantic salmon, the collapse of cod off New England, the disaster that has befallen the magnificent bluefin tuna — author Paul Greenberg does something truly courageous: He actually proposes thoughtful solutions.
Not everyone will find his suggestions entirely satisfying, but Greenberg's fabulous new book, "Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food," is still the best kind of environmental journalism: sophisticated but not dry, serious yet marinated in wit, and so well crafted it can be inhaled in one sitting from which you rise amazed to discover how much you've learned.
It seems marine fish are finally getting the literary champions they deserve.
Greenberg's story is deceptively simple: He traversed the globe, from the Arctic to Athens, to explain how human appetites destroyed populations of four significant ocean fish. But he means for those species to represent the hunt for all seafood. And he is trying to explain how it is, in 2010, that most of us still don't think of fish as wildlife.
But Greenberg, whose work regularly appears in The New York Times Magazine and National Geographic, isn't penning a fish-rights manifesto, nor is he building a case that it's time we move away from seafood. Greenberg has spent much of his four decades chasing marine life with hook and line. That background gives him a layered perspective. He details the horrors of bottom-trawling and industrial fishing, but confesses that the sustainable artisanal fisheries he adores can't by themselves feed the world. He raises significant questions about the conceits of Alaska's commercial pollock fleet, but acknowledges that it is, when compared to other white fish grounds, a relatively well-managed fishery. We see aquaculture that may in fact be made to work, and aquaculture that clearly doesn't.
No, Greenberg is on a quest to understand what we've done so humanity can hold on to a central human experience: consuming fish. And he actually manages to make this inherently sad quest fun.
In Alaska we watch as native Yupik fishermen pound the side of an oil tanker while at sea so they can trade the tanker crew's chef wild king salmon for bags of frozen chicken parts. He engages Mark Kurlansky, author of the international best-seller "Cod," in a surprising blind fish taste test. And he's not above public humiliation. Out at sea in rolling chop in awkward conversation with a near-stranger, Greenberg can do nothing as his drawers slowly slide to his ankles as he struggles to reel in a yellowfin tuna. He ends the scene with this exchange.
"Congrats," said Steve.
"Thanks," I said, and vomited.
Greenberg's saga, and his voice, are irresistible. A book that easily could have slid into cheap ideology or wonkiness instead revels in the tragicomic absurdity of nature, humans, and, of course, human nature. Yet it never shies away from the ugly, complicated truths of our modern world.
We live at a time when the ecological issues facing the sea are extraordinary and can seem maddeningly hopeless. Greenberg doesn't have all the answers, but he's done his homework exceptionally well and written an engrossing and important book. "Four Fish" is needed food for thought.
Craig Welch, The Seattle Times environment reporter, is the author of "Shell Games: Rogues, Smugglers and the Hunt for Nature's Bounty" (Morrow).
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.