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Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food

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In Four Fish, award-winning writer and lifelong fisherman Paul Greenberg takes us on a culinary journey, exploring the history of the fish that dominate our menus — salmon, sea bass, cod, and tuna — and investigating where each stands at this critical moment in time.

He visits Norwegian megafarms that use genetic techniques once pioneered on sheep to grow millions of pounds of salmon a year. He travels to the ancestral river of the Yupik Eskimos to see the only Fair Trade–certified fishing company in the world. He makes clear how PCBs and mercury find their way into seafood; discovers how Mediterranean sea bass went global; challenges the author of Cod to taste the difference between a farmed and a wild cod; and almost sinks to the bottom of the South Pacific while searching for an alternative to endangered bluefin tuna.

Fish, Greenberg reveals, are the last truly wild food — for now. By examining the forces that get fish to our dinner tables, he shows how we can start to heal the oceans and fight for a world where healthy and sustainable seafood is the rule rather than the exception.

284 pages, Hardcover

First published June 28, 2010

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About the author

Paul Greenberg

7 books75 followers
Paul Greenberg is the New York Times bestselling author of Four Fish, American Catch, The Omega Principle and Goodbye Phone, Hello World. A regular contributor to the Times and many other publications, Mr. Greenberg is the winner of a James Beard Award for Writing and Literature, a Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation and the writer-in-residence at the Safina Center. He has been featured on Fresh Air with Terry Gross, TED and PBS's Frontline.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 634 reviews
Profile Image for Martin.
Author 11 books38 followers
April 19, 2012
My opinion of this book can be encapsulated by an actual conversation I had on the train after putting the book away before disembarking:

Nice stranger lady: "Were you just reading the fish book by Greenberg?"
Me: "Why yes, I was."
NSL: "Isn't it an amazing book?"
Me: "You know, it really is. I'm really enjoying it, it's very good."
NSL: "I also enjoyed it very much."
Me: "Know what I find most interesting about it?"
NSL: "What's that?"
Me: "It's about the most boring topic in the world, yet I'm enthralled by all the detail."
NSL: "I know! Isn't that interesting! I thought the same thing! It's fish! Yet, this book is awesome!"
Me: "Indeed, oh, I'm going this way. Have a nice day."
NSL: "You too, thank you."

The book is mesmerizing in its exquisite detail. I generally love hearing experts speak, whether at book readings, conferences, lectures or via written media. Scarcely have I come across a person who could conceivably answer any question thrown at him in the field of his/her endeavors. Greenberg is an ace, who took a boyhood interest to the most wonderful, educational apex. As well, he has quality proposed solutions to the various consumerism crises as well. A marvelous literary achievement and a glorious, breathtaking read.
Profile Image for HBalikov.
1,737 reviews649 followers
May 29, 2018
A very personal journey by Greenberg helps clarify many of the issues faced by those who want to continue to source their protein in our planet's oceans.

I liked his approach and my book group found plenty to discuss from his personal descriptions.
Profile Image for William.
118 reviews4 followers
September 19, 2010
This is essentially a policy book about how to sustainably manage wild fish and meet rising demand will require a mix of government controls on fishing and on carefully regulated aquaculture.

Some fish make less sense than others for aquaculture, and Greenberg introduces a number of fish that seem well-suited for aquaculture, due to their low dependency on fish feed. Some fish, like salmon, require a diet of fish meal that makes raising them a net loss on sea life. Others are vegetarian or, at least, require less fish oil/feed. These include tilapia and carp as well as a lot of other fish I'd never heard of (barramundi, hoki, tra, and kahala aka Kona Kampachi.

For many fish, like cod, local or national level controls on fisheries (ie Georges Bank and Grand Banks) can work to restore levels. Though it will always be challenging for regulators to do this.

For large fish like bluefin tuna, that take years to reach maturity, Greenberg maintains that international bans on fishing them are necessary to restore numbers. He puts them in the same category of other large sea animals like whales and dolphins, or terrestrial ones like elephants, lions and tigers, that deserve protection.

He also suggests that large scale fishing operations should not receive any subsidies, and that any subsidies in the fishing industry should go to organizations that are aimed at raising fish more efficiently using less feed.

Great stuff. If anyone is down here and actually read this review and recommends other books about fish, I'm interested.
Profile Image for Happyreader.
544 reviews86 followers
October 12, 2011
Who would have guessed after going into such depth about the state of the fish we eat that the author would conclude by revealing that he’s unsettled by people continually asking him which fish they should eat. I understand that he considers global fishing and environmental policy changes to be primary and necessary and that if one consumer doesn’t eat tuna, another will so we’re shouldn’t delude ourselves that we’re saving fish solely by our consumer choices. Plus, he promotes shifting our mindsets to think of fish as not just food, that we should be harvesting and managing more sustainably, but also as wildlife to be preserved for our planetary health. Great points. Yet where else can we begin but with our own individual consumption choices? Shouldn’t the answer be that we both change our eating patterns AND advocate for policy change? Mind you, despite being disturbed by the question, he doesn't push for abstaining from eating fish and he does mention fish he thinks are suitable and unsuitable for widespread consumption. For instance, he discusses the advantages of choosing aquaculture-friendly fish such as barramundi, tilapia, tra, and Kona kampachi (although good luck finding any of those, save tilapia, in stores or on restaurant menus). Yet don't bother with farmed cod or tuna, both because of the huge food energy inputs (20 lbs of fish feed to get one lb of tuna flesh) and lower quality fish outputs.

I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in learning more about the issues surrounding fish sustainability, fish farming, and oceanic ecosystems. Learn more about the sex lives of fish. Heck, read it for no other reason than to update yourself on the cod situation if you’ve already read Mark Kurlansky’s Cod (there’s a great section where the author has Mark taste test various wild and farm-raised cod). Mind you, the book won’t answer all your sustainable fish questions. For instance, while reading the book, I ate at San Diego's Sea Rocket Bistro, a restaurant known for serving only sustainable fish and where they offered albacore tuna fished off the California coast. Is albacore less endangered than bluefin? Was that truly a sustainable fish choice? One revelation is that sustainability has never been clearly defined and the goal levels for fish stocks may be set too low for true sustainability, making my albacore question difficult to answer.

BTW, the cod are doing better but permanent damage may have been done to their size and former levels of abundance and bluefin tuna are in serious danger of collapsing entirely. So don’t eat bluefin tuna. I’m telling you, it’s near to impossible to talk about the fish we eat without asking which fish we should or shouldn't eat.
Profile Image for Celina.
332 reviews14 followers
May 6, 2012
I don't read many current-affairs polemics--I tend to think you can learn all you need to know about these books from an interview with the author--but Four Fish is right at the top of its category. Paul Greenberg, a lifelong fisherman, is also quite a writer. That makes his status update on fish as easy to read as it is informative.

Without spoiling anything, most of the fish we eat are being caught way beyond the rate of replacement. Legal limits on fishing work if they're based on science, and if they're respected, but for the most part they're not (ICCAT, the group that's supposed to set international limits to keep bluefin tuna from going extinct, is known by some as the International Commission to Catch All the Tuna). Scientists have made heroic efforts to farm the fish people have been used to eating, but most fish don't breed or grow well in captivity. They require hormone implants, genetic intervention and massive quantities of other fish to eat; they're fouling the water, spreading disease, and skewing the genetics of wild populations. The most promising option is to farm new species that do lend themselves to aquaculture and make good substitutes for the four key fish of the title (salmon, bass, cod, and tuna), if only chefs and consumers can be persuaded to try something new.

But that's just my boring summary. Don't take my word for it. This book not only tells it better, it also makes you see why you should care.
209 reviews44 followers
September 3, 2019
Four Fish makes fish INTERESTING—and I don't even eat fish! The four fish that are investigated are the Tuna, the Salmon, the Bass, and the Cod—the four fish that dominate the menus at fancy restaurants and fast food chains and family dinner tables.

The underlying premise is that globally we are overfishing. We are harvesting more fish every year than are produced. In some cases we have less than 10% of the fish that were there when commercial fishing started. This is obviously not sustainable.

For each of the four fish, the book discusses what attempts are being made to solve the problem, and the pros and cons of each method. Some advanced genetic techniques are working to a degree (implants that release hormones so that fish will spawn yearlong and not just all at the same time once a year, and breeding fish that can gain weight at quadruple the rate of the original versions, etc). A lot of people have tried farming the fish, some species are more successful than others.

Some of the fish are more sustainable than others, and Greenberg makes the case that we need to choose our “everyday” fish from the fish that are plentiful and easy to raise and which can turn a high percentage of their feed into pounds of meat, and to consider the other fish to be “special occasion” fish.

For example, it can take over TWENTY pounds of feed for a bluefin tuna to produce one pound of meat. This is not a good trait for farmed fish, and it also makes tuna inappropriate as a main source of wild caught meals for us. Regular salmon takes up to six pounds of feed to produce a pound of flesh, while breeders have improved farmed salmon to the point where it takes as few as three pounds. This is obviously much better for the environment and the world of “fish as food”--and more sustainable. Yet, the amount of salmon consumed has doubled over the last 20 years, and we are not able to keep up with the demand. Sea bass also requires almost three pounds of feed for every pound of flesh.

Another way to solve this problem would be to select the fish we eat based on how easy they are to farm, and how efficiently they turn feed into flesh—to enable us to have the 2.2 billion pounds of fish that is consumed annually without depleting the resources.

Greenberg's book is compelling and concerning. Destined to become a classic like the iconic Cod!!

I've read this book four times now (and remember, lol, I don't even like fish!).
Profile Image for David.
Author 18 books336 followers
December 10, 2011
I haven't read Mark Kurlansky's Cod, but this book is clearly capitalizing on the popularity of that book. Paul Greenberg even interviews Kurlansky and has the rather more famous writer sample a variety of wild, farmed, and organic cod to see if he can taste the difference. I guess I can't blame Greenberg for playing "gotcha" with a more famous author who made his reputation on a book about one fish species, but it seemed like he was trying a little too hard.

This book is another of what the author calls "endangered fish" books. He focuses on four of the most common food fish: salmon, sea bass, cod, and tuna. Talking about the biology and our history of consumption of each, Four Fish is interesting for anyone who is into food science, ecology, or marine biology, but the story is pretty depressing for every species: we're eating them all to extinction. Pretty soon many species of once-abundant fish will be available only as farmed fish, or not even that, and the international community has had very bad luck getting fishermen to stop over-fishing even when it's obvious to everyone what the inevitable outcome will be.

Greenberg tries to end the book on an optimistic note, pointing out that it's not too late, there are conservation, economic, and public policy measures that have been proven to work, and listing the necessary steps that, if taken, could result in all of our favorite fish rebounding and even remaining available as seafood for generations to come. But I cannot say I am as optimistic. The sad story of bluefin tuna seems to be the likely fate of one species after another as we greedily eat anything we can catch.

3.5 stars. Not an extremely deep book, but good for a high-level view of our use and overuse of the ocean's resources, and definitely something that will appeal to anyone who ever had an interest in marine biology.
Profile Image for Karen.
87 reviews4 followers
August 9, 2011
It's a story of unintended consequences. Farmed Fish is a big idea response to pressures on the wild fish stock in the commercial fisheries. It holds promise, but has primarily worsened the circumstances of the wild stock while degrading the fish we eat. Sadly, most fish farming is based on false logic, erroneous assumptions, and a green ideology that uses simplistic, and often untrue, stories to stir emotional reactions and garner political power. Two axioms should be held sacrosanct in this and every initiative, "First, Do No Harm" and "Keep It Simple." In other words, include input from all stakeholders, make the smallest changes first, verify the impact, and then make corrections and modifications.

My favorite quote: ""Let us learn how to revive the life cycle of river herring and other things cod eats. Let us learn, down to the last fish, how cod reproduces and survives in the wild and how their populations change over time. Such a mastery would include a hyperlocal fleet of knowledgable small scale fishermen harvesting from discrete populations of cod in as precise a way as possible. Such a fleet of fishermen might get a small subsidy to make up for the cost of their effort, but it would be understood that any subsidy they receive is a fee for service, that they are stewards, as well as catchers of fish... In such a way, perhaps we can reconstruct a fishery where fish and fishermen are dependent on one another, the way a flock and herder require each other for survival...." (p. 187)
Profile Image for Matt.
526 reviews10 followers
December 17, 2018
I've read some great nonfiction this year. Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, The Secret Knowledge of Water, and Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, for instance, were all 2018 reads that will stick with me for some time. And yet I'd put this up against any of those works.

I'll admit that at various points I was frustrated with the organization of the 4 chapters, but by book's close, I don't know that I would have organized the materials any differently. Perhaps I would have suggested breaking up the 4 fish chapters into shorter chapters, but I also understand the decision to keep them as they were, each almost a short manuscript unto itself.

Anyway. Read this if you're interested in being a more responsible consumer, if you're interested in the long-term health of fish, if you're interested in good nonfiction.

[5 stars for a great mix of things I knew put in new contexts + things I didn't know, all told simply, cleanly, and well.]
Profile Image for Jimmy.
Author 6 books206 followers
January 15, 2011
Paul Greenberg writes about four fish: salmon, tuna, bass, and cod. He also includes stories about other fish and marine life. The subtitle says it all: "The Future of the Last Wild Food." And the future is not good. So what can I do about it? I mean, I only want to live the rest of my life trying to do the right thing. Why is that so hard? In this case, it really is tricky. Small steps are not making enough of a difference right now.

For one thing, I will never eat bluefin tuna. For another, I will try to do my best to be aware of what I eat, not only with fish but with all food. I always read labels. But that's not enough.

The main problem is people, all people. I am tired of the so-called anti-government movements like the Tea Party. The ultimate solutions to environmental problems will need regulations, strong regulations, good regulations, supported by governments that have the best interest of the future in mind. That will mean voters who are educated, who want good governments, who get involved in good governments. It will take governments from around the world, not just a few of them. Some societies will have to change their eating habits, so will some people. We need an international community working together for a better future for all. That takes cooperation and intelligence.
Profile Image for Isaac Yuen.
10 reviews34 followers
January 24, 2016
Four Fish provided 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. After reading Bottomfeeder, I was wary that it may cover a lot of similar terrain, but this actually provided an interesting and thought-provoking perspective about how people view fish. There were some really intriguing insights here. For example, salmon was perceived to be a luxury item, brought down to the masses. Cod was perceived to be a workman, an everyday staple, until one day, it wasn’t. Bluefin tuna was perceived to the pinnacle of evolution, and subduing it via modern fishing technology represented man’s triumph over nature.

The conclusions are excellent and well-thought out; Greenberg argued that we need both new management strategies for wild fisheries and new developments in fish farms if we are to continue to rely on fish as a source of protein. Within the realm of aquaculture, one of the most important arguments he made was that we need to devote our energies to raise fish species that are actually amenable to being farmed. Rationality dictates that farmed fish species should tolerate containment, net us surplus protein (we get more than we put in), are hardy, easy to maintain, and can breed freely without fuss.

The kicker is that all four main fish species in the book are actually terrible candidates for sustaining the world. Our fish preferences stem from culture and circumstance and are in reality terribly irrational. Salmon is just about the hardest, most annoying thing to farm; sea bass is no better. Bluefin tuna was considered not fit for cats to the Japanese a few generations ago; now they are almost extinct due to rabid and insatiable demand because it could be frozen at sea. Cod was the staple of nations not because of its taste or nutrition, but for its abundance, low cost, and extraordinary blandness. They have fared extremely poorly in a world of tremendous seafood demand, and farmed salmon and cod along with ranched bluefin are not solutions to anything.

Greenberg looks at more sensible alternatives that cater to our irrational tastes. Instead of cod, tra (the Vietnamese catfish) and tilapia provide the same white bland meat (there are concerns about how Asian fish farms raise them, unfortunately not covered in the book.) Instead of sea bass, farmed barramundi from Australia. Instead of bluefin tuna, he looks at farmed kahala from Hawaii. They are by no means the most sustainable choices, but they are far more sensible in terms of resource and energy use better than what they replace.

There are weaknesses in the earlier portions of the book. This is definitely a personal preference thing, but I found it difficult to relate to his personal history about why fishing meant a lot to him. The Sea Bass chapter also really laboured to draw me in as a reader; perhaps because the history of sea bass pales in comparison to epic and tragic histories of the salmon, cod, and tuna fisheries. But towards the end of the chapter, he really grabbed my attention again and kept it throughout the rest of the book.

Overall, similar to Bottomfeeder, I would recommend this book both for someone who’s just learning about the issues and for those who are already pretty knowledgeable about the plight of the oceans and are seeking to understand finned fish aquaculture. I really enjoyed its structured format, going from one main species of focus to another; that aspect made it easy to follow and ideal to quick pickup and read sessions.
35 reviews
October 13, 2011
Where do I start? This book single-handedly knocked the ignorance right out of me, not the part that highlighted human greed, but the part that never quite understood what "farmed" fish meant, the extent to which we have manipulated/destroyed their breeding environment and overturned their own biological makeup sometimes for the sake of profit, other times for the very real necessity of eradicating hunger, nor that it had been hypocritical of me to relinquish red "meat" while believing that turning towards seafood was entirely harmless both in and of itself and to the environment. Its supply is not enough to meet our demands and yet we've no doubt pushed for questionable methods to reverse that.

I was overwhelmed by the extent to which we have entered into their domain by way of our dominant and inventive devices, which has increasingly enabled us to surge geographically further beyond fishing territories we have already decimated. It made me question as never before if what we've done is a form of violence on par with what we mainly attribute to our acts toward warm blooded animals. For example, the author described the technique of Italians who entered Greece in early 1970s to "fish" for sea bass by detonating underwater dynamite, the pressure of the waves thereby knocking the sea bass unconscious and simultaneously cutting off the sea bass's neurotransmitters which would normally aid them in regulating their swim bladders. Consequently, their swim bladders erroneously flooded itself with an overload of gas, whereby they floated toward the surface of the ocean to be easily captured by the fisherman.

The author, a fisher himself, does an important job in tracing the history of each fish and offering his theories on why we have chosen these particular four when other more heartily sustainable fish can be found and that perhaps we can save the viability of the endangered ones by turning towards the alternative. However, we have grown attached to the fantastic four and are slow to embrace the little known. Most significant, though, was his descriptions of the evolutionary beauty inherent in each of these four fish in their wild form. For instance, the blue-fin tuna that can reach upwards to 1500 pounds and over 14 feet long, can traverse entire oceans and at a rate of over 40 miles an hour with its rapidly whipping tail. Is this alone not a miracle of creation worthy of our awe and preservation.

What I liked about this book is that it is balanced, pragmatic and realistic. He is not an extremist advocating for an end to all fish and animal consumption. At this stage it would be impossible as we are too attached to it as a food source, but rather to a more balanced approach, such as smaller-scale operations fronted by actual fisherman with an understanding of the life cycles of the marine environment so that the equilibrium of ocean life can be protected and not when we've realized too late that we might have depleted or killed off the original spawners with the best genes to survive its surroundings. In a nutshell, moderation, restraint and a giving back even half much as we take away appears to be the message and the key. I loved this book heartily recommend this book to anyone.
Profile Image for Mag.
383 reviews55 followers
August 6, 2016
The book is written by a journalist who writes predominantly for the New York Times and focuses on fish, aquaculture and the future of the oceans. The book seems to be a fairly balanced report that concentrates on the state and future of the four fish: salmon, sea bass, cod and tuna. Why these ones, and why four? Well, there are apparently four mammals that humanity chose to domesticate: cows, sheep, goats and pigs, and four birds: chickens, geese, ducks and turkeys, so following that pattern and Michael Pollan’s idea of ‘a natural history of four meals’, Greenberg is looking at four fish we eat most often. He looks at the state of their stocks around the world and their domestication and preservation efforts. His account seems to be well balanced- he is neither an activist preaching doom and gloom, nor is he a fishing industry enthusiast. The fact that he is a passionate, yet compassionate, fisherman himself, adds a nice personal touch to his narration. Which doesn't mean that he is optimistic about what he sees and investigates. He is rather pessimistic about the wild fish chances of survival unless we decide to see and treat them as wildlife and not as food. He advocates getting away from eating wild endangered species, developing sustainable fish farming practices and establishing global no-catch zones. Global being the operative word here.

It’s a very nicely written book, with quite a bit of history. Just a bit of criticism: Greenberg complains that people don’t even know what the fish they eat look like, and yes, this is mostly true in my case. I may know salmon, herring, carp, but do I know what pollock or tuna look like? Or, how the yellow fin is different from the blue fin tuna? No idea, so he is evidently right, yet he doesn’t include any pictures in his book.
I would also like to see fish farms work, yet so far have big reservations. I see multiple problems to what the things are like with the farmed fish right now. For one, salmon farms pollute the waters and spread sea lice. They give the sea lice to the wild fish, causing them to weaken and die. Farmed salmon suffer from a host of diseases- I am even wondering what's the condition of the fish we eat. Farmed salmon also escape and may breed with the wild salmon, and who knows to what detrimental effect. Besides, one of the ways to get rid of the high levels of PCB and mercury is to feed salmon a vegetarian feed. Some fish farmers have started doing that. The feed consists mainly of corn and flax seeds from what I understood. I am wondering how it's going to change the taste of the fish flesh, and the nutrients it offers, not to mention how it's going to affect people like me, those who have lots of allergies.
Then we have all the panga fish (catfish- a kind of sea bass?) bred in Vietnam. Yes, it's very cheap and tasty, but who knows what chemicals lurk in its flesh. Regulators say illegal antibiotics have been found in many of them. Not that pork or chicken are any better, though.
I was at Costco today, and I must say I was thoroughly disgusted to sea yellow fin tuna steaks to buy. I am pretty sure Costco wasn't doing anything illegal, but they shouldn't be promoting endangered species consumption in any way in my opinion.
Profile Image for Jordan.
27 reviews11 followers
August 17, 2011

Do you ever wonder where that fish on your plate comes from, or how many of its brothers and sisters are still around? Do you wonder why there are only a couple of fish that are available to order at restaurants or buy at the grocery store? Paul Greenberg fished as a child does first in local ponds and streams near his home. As he grew older he bought a boat and began fishing in lakes and then in bays and coastal areas. As an adult he chartered boats and the ocean became his pond. Upon returning from a 30 year break from his fishing hobby he soon noticed that fish markets had only a few fish to choose from compared to years past when the variety was staggering. His book profiles the “big four” fish that are now widely available for our consumption. These include salmon, tuna, bass and cod.

Did you know for example that Bluefin Tuna which is the most coveted sushi/sashimi dish is near priceless because of scarcity caused by over fishing. A 500 pound blue fin can sell for 300,000 U.S dollars. Did ya know that before the 1970’s fisherman tossed these fish overboard because of their rich fatty meat? Japanese businessman shipping electronics to the U.S began loading their empty plains with Bluefin, buying them for pennies, to avoid wasting gas money on their jets’ return trips to Japan? A bit of marketing and then bluefin became a popular fish. Fish food fads come and go and we all go along for the ride.

Greenberg goes on to profile each fish and explain how they each underwent domestication and, or exploitation. The lengths we went to make special occasion fish everyday fish has been amazing. Technologically we overcame obstacles to feed the masses, but at the same time devastating our wild fish populations. He believes that the food input would be close to the food output when choosing fish to farm. Tilapia and barramundi both require little food and thrive in rough conditions so their future is bright. As popularity contests ebb and flow different fish find their way to our plate. When wild stocks begin to “stop producing” we try to “farm” that variety of fish and have had mixed results both with efficacy and the healthiness of the product.

I found this book very interesting and disturbing at the same time. We spend so much effort to eat the right things yet very little in understanding where our food comes from, or the effect we are having on it as a species by eating it. After reading this book I’ve decided that protein, especially fish, is just a luxury that should be treated as such. Cave man had little of it and modern man has been able to afford little himself. We owe it to our animal friends; for our health, pocketbook, and the continual supply of special occasion protein out there in nature, to eat less and learn more.

He ends his book with advice for the fishing industry that may lead to logical choices of what fish to fish and how to keep power in the hands of fisherman who won’t destroy the very delicate little water animals that keep them employed. If big business is left to make these choices then wild fish will be quickly gone and “farmed” processed mutant fish will fill our plates.
You are what you eat and you are also responsible for the killing of what you eat.
Profile Image for Nicole.
195 reviews21 followers
August 4, 2020
Very cool book. Somehow it makes you both want to never taste fish again for sustainability, and at the same time, very hungry for fish. Lots of good information, but doesn't read like a textbook.

(Read for ECOL 360 Spring 20)
Profile Image for Dana Stabenow.
Author 125 books1,910 followers
December 30, 2013
Worth reading alone for the lyrical evocation of the author's childhood years in his introduction, as in

Fishing was the one constant during these years. Sensing in it a masculine, character-building quality my mother arranged it so that the cottages we rented always had access to streams and lakes or abutted other properties we could trespass upon that had such resources. She trusted my instincts for spotting fishy water and used me as a kind of diving rod before signing a lease. And for most of my childhood, we were within a short walk of a potentially fruitful cast.

The book is divided into an examination of the title four fish, salmon, tuna, bass and cod. You'll never look at sushi again the same way. I've been an eyewitness to the Alaskan salmon fishery my whole life, and as I was reading this book I was thinking about the Kenai River king salmon. In 1985 an angler caught a 97.4-pounder, still the world's record. In 2013 the Kenai River was closed to king fishing because of low escapement.

He ends on a pretty convincingly optimistic note, I'll give him that. I hope he's right. And I wish everyone fishing on and beyond the Kenai River, the setnetters, the drifters, the seiners, the anglers and subsistence fishermen, would read this book. Maybe they could stop fighting over their share of the run and start working together to save it.
Profile Image for Bookmarks Magazine.
2,042 reviews727 followers
October 11, 2010
Many of the critics called upon to review Paul Greenberg's Four Fish are themselves environmental writers or experts of some kind. It is a measure of the book's quality that even those who significantly disagreed with Greenberg endorsed Four Fish as one of the best primers for readers who want to learn how the seafood they eat relates to the future of the ocean. Their support may result from Greenberg's pragmatic solutions for improving aquaculture and avoidance of ideological confrontation. But reviewers also emphasized that even those who know a great deal about this subject will enjoy the narratives Greenberg shares as he follows the fates of his four fish. This is an excerpt from a review published in Bookmarks magazine.
Profile Image for Brian Griffith.
Author 6 books223 followers
August 28, 2020
I love the way this guy talks. His childhood stories flow seamlessly into the story of all humanity in relation to sea creatures. The book's structure builds both forward in time and outward into ever-deeper water. I'd seen various deeply disturbing accounts about our systematic destruction of the sea. But this is a far more conversationally problem-solving approach, considering the merits of various practical experiments to manage fish better. I was fascinated to learn of bright spots, where people are making promising possibilities happen.
Profile Image for AJ.
1,450 reviews113 followers
November 15, 2014
This book makes me sad. People are so greedy and short-sighted about their eating habits that we have nearly depleted rivers, lakes and oceans of once plentiful fish.

The book was well-written and enjoyable, but I really hate it how, even now in 2010, an author can use male pronouns and not think to interview a single female in nearly 300 pages of narrative. (Actually, I think he managed to find a female PR rep but nobody in the fishing industry.)
80 reviews3 followers
July 12, 2014
Great book! Engaging, diverse, and surprisingly full of factual information. A must-read for, well, everyone, I think. Everyone who eats food, that is. :)
You'll come away well-versed in the most pressing issues facing our oceans and our seafood, but you won't feel like you had to suffer to gain that knowledge-Greenberg is a great story teller.
85 reviews1 follower
July 1, 2020
I learned so many things about each of the four fishes. The book gives a lot of context about the history, environment, characteristics, modern farming practices, and more around each fish.
5 reviews
September 16, 2020
This was an exceptional read for a timely and important subject. It's sat on my shelf for years after getting it at an event and I finally jumped in and read it. Looking at it through 10 years time since publishing, it's been interesting to see how some of the sections apply to the current time. Take the Salmon section and Yukon River salmon. A year or two before this book was published, I remember getting a Yukon River King at Whole Foods. It was probably one of the greatest fish dishes I've ever had. And I haven't had it since.

Learning more about the history of the four fish (salmon, sea bass, cod, and tuna) was enlightening and how we got to this stage was also quite interesting. Greenberg wrote in an easy and approachable style that made everything digestible and applicable.

If you're curious about oceans, seafood, and what the future holds for both, I'd highly recommend reading this. And then do your part by making informed choices with what you put on your plate.
Profile Image for sarah.
151 reviews
August 2, 2020
thought-provoking and important! this book was written 10 years ago though so would appreciate an update. it is so funny how individual activism and action to improve the world pales in comparison to what powerful governments and large corporations can do but governments just won't do it!
Profile Image for Andrew.
9 reviews
April 27, 2011
A sport fisherman examines the fate of the world’s last wild food.

Four Fish: The Future of the last Wild Food by Paul Greenburg examines the condition of the Earth’s fisheries by focusing on four fish: salmon, sea bass, cod and tuna. Any book that addresses natural resources and humanity’s treatment of them has high potential to be very depressing. Greenburg however, outlines several options that combine strategies for wild-catch commercial fishing, aquaculture, and preservation that combined, may provide for a sustainable world fishery.

The situation is challenging. Fish protein is vital to feed the Earth’s population. The sheer number of fish harvested is staggering and totals in the billions of tons annually for many species. Fishing technology is effective to the point that it is devastating. Developing countries have had their waters exploited for decades, and now desire to utilize these resources, both to feed their populace and develop economically.

• One of the more interesting proposals for domestic cod waters is to limit fishing grounds to select individuals who are residents and stewards of small fishing grounds. A similar arrangement has been very successful with lobster fishermen in Maine.

• Aquaculture poses numerous problems including genetic deterioration, fish disease and problematic feed-to-product ratios. However, with these challenges thoughtfully addressed aquaculture, particularly freshwater aquaculture could be a viable means to provide the world with fish.

• The perception of adequate quantities of fish species experiences a phenomenon known as “shifting baselines” in which the true historical populations are not considered (or even known.)

• The demand for a species like blue fin tuna could very well drive the fish to extinction and in fact the conditions that surround it are seemingly insurmountable. Greenburg brings up an interesting concept regarding apex fish like the Blue Fin. It entails a dramatic shift in perception of the fish like the one that occurred with whales. He argues that by placing these fish in a different category in the global psyche, they could be saved.

Greenburg’s approach to the subject was engaging. He avoided over dramatizations while still stressing the crucial issues that the world’s fisheries face. The fact that he is a somewhat avid sport fisherman added a particularly interesting element to the narrative. His tales of fishing throughout his life and what that has meant to him provided a personal element that juxtaposed nicely with the massive industry that is commercial fishing.

Greenburg’s treatment of the subject is substantially interdisciplinary. In addition to the obvious economic, biological, cultural, and technical components he even examines some linguistical elements that pertain to history of the global fishery.

Books to read prompted by Four Fish: Trying Leviathan by D. Graham Burnett and Cod by Mark Kurlanski
Profile Image for Elizabeth Ruiz.
128 reviews1 follower
March 28, 2021
Riddled with microaggressions, this author barely conceals his sense of self-importance- refusing to examine how his own actions have contributed to the decline of his local fisheries. Without ever critically examining the systemic and cultural structures that led to the collapse of just about every major fishery in the world, he judges Indigenous and Asian peoples (in the first two chapters, at least) for their bartering and supposed lack of care for the laws and regulations, respectively.

He also does a lot of handwaving about underlying causes and motivations, pointing at scientists to blame, when really, this problem runs much deeper. The culprit at the helm of environmental collapse and species loss is capitalism- science and the aquaculture he describes are tools of capitalism.

I also hated how he dressed himself up in poverty, just because his family wasn't mega-wealthy. His family was still comfortable enough to rent cottages near water in an expensive part of the country, take him on chartered fishing trips, and buy him a used boat as a teenager, and yet he still posited himself as a poor person with a special connection to fish. It all just reeks.

I am a fish biologist, and I love fish. I think they are so interesting, and I really tried to read this book. It lacked nuance and perspective and honestly, I was lucky to get through the introduction. This book is hot garbage and if I ever see this author in person, it's on sight.
Profile Image for Susan Rainwater.
99 reviews
September 17, 2018
Open your cooking magazine, and you will find a recommendation to eat fish twice a week. If we actually followed those recommendations using wild-caught fish, we would fish the oceans into extinction in about a decade.

So what is the future of fish as food? That’s the subject of this fascinating book.

Four Fish is in many respects a companion book to Mark Kurlansky’s Cod. It’s about (no surprise) the four most common food fish — salmon, sea bass, cod, and tuna — in the world diet.

Greenburg is pursuasive that farmed fish are our future, but is critical of current approaches to farming. The switch from cod to tilapia that he predicts has largely happened in the years since the book was published. He argues against trying to farm major predators like tuna (think farming T Rex), in favor of tilapia and tra, fish that adapt well to enclosed environments.

Greenburg’s prose is sparking and the book informative. I highly recommend it.
Profile Image for Travis Beckman.
49 reviews2 followers
September 12, 2018
Greenberg perfectly captures the stages a once young and naive fisherman goes through in realizing the waters they grew up fishing will not remain so if we do not make the transition from being purely harvesters to stewards. I know this because I myself have gone through the same troubling realization. Though I’ve come a long way from the days where I begged my Dad to keep every fish we caught, there is still so much work to do in order to, as Greenberg states is necessary, change humanity’s view of fish from being seafood to wildlife worthy of protection. Humanity’s future depends on the sea, and we must rise to the responsibility of protecting it.
Profile Image for Sarah.
50 reviews2 followers
September 28, 2019
Really interesting look at a major industry’s supply chain, wonderfully told by a journalist who also happens to be a fisherman. As someone who’s grown up eaten a lot of fish and worked in the processed meat industry, i was amazed at how little I know about the gills that end up on my plate. Highly recommend to anyone who’s curious to learn about how we capture, breed, and sell the last wild food.
4 reviews
December 24, 2020
Loved it. Despite knowing more about fisheries management than the average person, this book challenged some of my thinking and shifted my perspectives on fisheries and aquaculture. Will definitely think of fish more as “wildlife first, food second” going forward.

Less scientifically heavy than I had feared, the book is strengthened with the author’s personal experiences and reflections.

Only wish it was more recent. A lot changes in 10 years.
Profile Image for Kaitlyn.
89 reviews
February 26, 2017
This book is important. We need to educate more people on sustainable seafood if we want to continue enjoying it. Although this book could have included more science and less fishing escapades, the author did make it clear that he understands where a lot of Americans are at; torn between conservation and delicious seafood that restaurants and markets tell us are the best.
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