Festivalprat #5: Paul Greenberg

Is the way we farm popular seafood species such as salmon, tuna and shrimp threatening to ruin the diversity in our oceans, or does the future food have to come from these species? Fisherman and writer Paul Greenberg talks about food from the ocean.

Møt Paul Greenberg i programpostene Vi temmer havet og Den gobale fiskediskens skyggeside.

Can you explain what your book «Four Fish» is about?

100 years ago, nearly everything we ate from the sea was wild. We’re now crossing the point where more than half of our seafood is coming from farms. The last time something like this happened was 10,000 years ago, when humans first came out of their caves and began domesticating cattle and sheep, wheat and corn. Four Fish is about this epochal moment we’re hitting with the ocean right now. The four fish I zero in on in the book are the key dramatis personae in that drama.

Your book was first published just after the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and ended up in several best seller lists… Do you think the catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico had something to do with the great interest in your book?

Fish in particular and the ocean in general are a hard sell to the reading public. I recall how a colleague once pitched the New York Times a story on overfishing. The New York Times replied something like we just covered the ocean last month so we’re not looking for anything on that topic right now. My friend said to himself «What about Israel/Palestine? You covered that yesterday. You’re covering it today and you’ll probably cover it tomorrow. The ocean only gets one shot every few months?»

So, yes, the Gulf oil spill did help my book considerably. The ever spewing oil coming off that pipe at the bottom of the sea held the ocean in the public spotlight for much longer than usual. That spewing happened to coincide with that critical 3 months before my book came out. The three months before a book is released makes or breaks it. In my case, I was made by oil.

In your book you say wild fishery still is governed with primitivism. Have you seen any changes in this since your book was released?

There is no doubt that fisheries management is advancing. Catch Shares and other quota systems are starting to become more common and this has led to more rational management of fisheries in some countries. But, you have to remember that so much of the world is still not subject to the rule of law. It is impossible to have science based fisheries management unless the laws that underpin them are respected and enforced.

There is a great demand for more food to feed a growing world population. The UN has said that more food production has to come from the ocean. Norway is the world’s largest salmon producer. What role do you see salmon plays as a supplier of food to a growing population?

This is an issue that requires a little bit of peeling back. The current Western diet with its reliance on beef and other land-based livestock is clearly out of synch with what the earth can sustainably support. So, in that respect, salmon can be an improvement. Salmon are much more efficient in terms of feed conversion than cattle. But are they the most efficient we can get? No. In truth farming a salmon is about as impactful on the earth as farming a chicken. And we can do better than chicken for sure. The most exciting area is what scientists are now terming «non-fed aquaculture species». In other words filter feeders like mussels, oysters and clams as well as photosynthetic organisms like kelp. Because they require no external feed inputs and zero water inputs, they are most likely the food of the future. The trick will be getting people to accept them as central to the Western diet.

In Four Fish you suggest what can be done to make wild fishing more regulated, and fish farming into a more sustainable manner. Do you see any of this happening?

Yes. With wild fish, as I said, quota systems which in my opinion can be very effective, are becoming more prevalent. There is also considerable effort from the NGO community to try to close the High Seas to fishing. I believe this is a move in the right direction. it’s very hard to regulate waters outside of national jurisdiction and we should strongly consider making them no take areas.

With regard to aquaculture – we’re certainly seeing interesting attempts trying to realize a net gain in marine protein from aquaculture. Carnivorous species like salmon, as you probably know, usually require significant amounts of wild fish as feed. This has been trending downward in the last 10 years and most recently several companies have launched feed products that are completely fish meal and fish oil free. If we can figure that piece of the puzzle out, we’ll have come a long way.

Intervju: Kjersti Sandvik