Sardines, Anchovies, and Climate Change

How to eat from the ocean sustainably

Paul Greenberg

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Are fish complicated or is everything else in our diet just incredibly dumbed down? We eat basically four different mammals — cows, pigs, sheep, and goats. We eat basically four different birds — chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese. We eat basically three farmed grains — rice, corn and wheat. All of it farmed.

But fish are different. We eat hundreds upon hundreds of species of fish and shellfish. Often those marine animals are wild. Often we don’t even know their names when we eat them.

I’ll be trying to do some fish demystification in a live streamed event with the PBS News Hour on Wednesday, June 8. In advance of the show, I sat down to answer a few key questions ahead of time. Here they are.

What’s the most dangerous fishing practice most people don’t know enough about right now?

When conservationists hone in on what’s to blame for overfishing and ocean degradation they often point the finger at bottom trawling since it can be indiscriminate in what’s caught and can destroy fish habitat in the process of harvest. But there’s a more under-the-radar bogeyman out there and that’s transshipment. A lot of fish are caught and then transshipped to floating processing vessels which can more or less erases provenance — we don’t know where the catch has come from. What we are striving for is a world in which we know exactly what we’re eating and exactly how it was caught.

What is the most worrisome consumer trend in seafood?

I think the most dangerous trend is consumers just not really having any idea where their seafood is coming from. They may be eating illegally caught fish that has traded hands so many different times that it’s nearly impossible to trace. By kind of sleepwalking and choosing seafood based on what’s cheap, we often don’t honor the sustainability that we’d like to see become the norm.

What is one thing American seafood consumers can do to help improve sustainability of fish populations and healthier oceans?

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Paul Greenberg

New York Times bestselling author of Four Fish as well as The Climate Diet and Goodbye Phone, Hello World paulgreenberg.org