Eco-Living Magazine

Book Review: "Four Fish" by Paul Greenberg

Posted on the 09 November 2012 by 2ndgreenrevolution

Book Review:


Books about sustainability, often touch on food. Recently, Megan reviewed Hope’s Edge and Mark Kurlansky’s Cod earlier this year. Drawing in part on the latter, Paul Greenberg’s Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food, explores the state of salmon, sea bass, cod, and tuna. In the guise of many other natural histories of a single commodity, Paul Greenberg writes about the commercialization and exploitation of the four fish in his New York Times Bestseller.

Beginning with salmon and his personal connection to the once abundant fish, Greenberg takes the reader through the history and current status of the orange fleshed animal. Through each fish, Greenberg considers the efforts to farm them, i.e. raising it in captivity and the challenges that come with it.

As an example of what Greenberg looks into when delving into the history of cod, he talks about a future where sustainable management is a collaborative effort between university researchers, local fishermen, and regional councils, NPR ran a recent story about seaweed, which has become a new crop that exemplifies this cooperative relationship. 

Greenberg does not come out against farmed fish. The subtitle to his book is “The Future of the Last Wild Food.” Instead, throughout the book, he considers the implications of farmed fish, the best species to domesticate, and to how sustainably feed the world. He does constantly bring in the notion of wild fish comparing them to the domesticated versions, whether this includes the “flake” of cod in a blind taste test with Kurlansky or the barriers to large scale aquaculture, namely disease and pollution.

Greenberg takes a pragmatic approach to fishing and aquaculture. In his recommendations, as part of his conclusion, Greenberg takes a systems approach. He argues that unless the fish farming industry takes an ecological perspective (i.e. considers various levels and interactions) it will struggle to feed the world. One issue that crops up repeatedly in his journey is feeding farmed fish. Replicating their diet in the wild has proven difficult and led to a number of innovations, including the incorporation of microscopic organisms to replace the protein of smaller fish. Feed conversions, the amount of food needed to generate a pound of flesh, are discussed often. All four fish in Greenberg’s book are predators and require other species of fish, not the most efficient choice in terms of input. A recent NPR article about “fly farming” may have an answer to the protein problem.

Greenberg’s book is a quick read, though the salmon chapter (the book’s first) is the most fluid. I struggled to finish the final chapter on tuna as he digressed into a discussion of whales, which he argued are a viable example of how to save a species in danger of being exploited. All in all, Four Fish is an enjoyable and informative read.

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