The last wild food

Paul Greenburg writes about fishing and aquaculture in his book “Four Fish”

John Erik Stacy, 27 Aug 2010


Book cover image from

On August 10, Paul Greenberg, author, journalist, lover of sea food and fishing, spoke in Seattle at the University of Washington Book Store to promote his book “Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food.” He spoke and answered questions about his book, experiences and thoughts on fishing and aquaculture. The book is an exploration of important issues pertaining to fish. Although it contains an index and hundreds of notes, it is written from a personal and very entertaining perspective. The device of “Four Fish” – Salmon, Sea Bass, Cod and Tuna – is used to walk the reader through the phases of the human-ichthyoid relationship as we have “chased” our prey from fresh-water to coastal shallows and on to deeper and more open waters.

Greenberg is clearly passionate about fish and fishing, but he projected nuanced ideas and attitudes regarding how resources might be best used while preserving – and hopefully restoring – aquatic treasures for generations to come. At the start of the talk, he posed several questions to the audience, including “How many of you categorically refuse to eat farmed fish?” Most of the audience raised their hands, but the author spoke of responsible practices in aquaculture. He stated that 170 billion pounds – about the “human weight of China” – is pulled out of the oceans every year and suggested that this reality is cause for both wonder at the bounty sea and trepidation regarding the extent to which we take from this “common” resource. He compared the ancient taming of animals to our ongoing domestication of fish. And he pointed up the contrast between the centuries used to “improve” terrestrial farm stocks versus the few decades in which, guided by the principles of modern biology and luminaries like Norwegian Trygve Gjedrum, yields in farmed fishes have been greatly increased. On the flip side, he pointed out how our knowledge and ever more effective technologies have played a role in “cornering” wild species. In this instance, Greenburg told of how intensive salmon fishing in crucial waters off Greenland in the 1960’s was apparently a major cause of the depletion of wild stocks that lead to the extinction of commercial salmon fishing in the Atlantic.

“Four Fish” challenges us to re-examine our own attitudes. The author acknowledged the visceral elements of catching and eating fish from the wild while balancing these with the demands for protein in the human population. He suggested that certain practices – such as closed system fresh water aquaculture – can help relieve fishing pressure on wild populations without having the serious environmental consequences now associated with costal netpen operations. He also discussed how certain species by nature may be better suited for aquaculture and suggested Arctic Char as a good candidate (naturally adapted to crowding in frozen lakes). Typical of his energy and optimism, he remarked of how he hoped to fish the waters off New York City and signed my copy of “Four Fish” with the words “may we all eat wild Norwegian salmon someday.”

Visit to learn more about the book and author Paul Greenburg.

This article was originally published in the Aug. 20, 2010 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. For more information about the Norwegian American Weekly or to subscribe, call us toll free (800) 305-0217 or email

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