By Alex Gladu, Writer for Independent We Stand
Paul Greenberg, author of Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food and an all-around expert on aquaculture, promises to shake up the American seafood industry with his latest book, American Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood. In American Catch, Greenberg looks at three American seafood staples: the New York City oyster, the Louisiana brown shrimp and the Alaskan salmon. What he found are some serious red flags for coastal sustainability, nutrition and local communities across the country.
The demand for seafood in the U.S. has remained steady for years, but Greenberg claims that our nation also has “a broken relationship with its own ocean.” The problem, Greenberg believes, stems from facts like this: The U.S. controls more ocean than any other country in the world, yet we import 91 percent of the seafood we eat.
In some cases, the seafood we want just isn’t there because of overfishing and a lack of sustainable practices. For example, New York City oysters used to rule the city’s harbors and the city’s markets. Now, a coalition of nonprofits is working to replenish New York’s oyster beds after they’ve been desecrated thanks to pollution and erosion of salt marshes. In other cases, the justification for importing foreign seafood and exporting ours is purely economic. Other nations, especially China and Japan, are willing to pay top dollar for seafood, while Americans are not, Greenberg tells NPR. “We want our food cheap and easy,” he says. The farmed shrimp and salmon from Asia costs significantly less (even imported) than American seafood.
Regardless of the justification behind the phenomenon that Greenberg calls “the great American fish swap,” the trend has clear ramifications for Americans and their communities. First, there’s the sustainability crisis. Without natural aquatic populations – like the New York City oyster beds – the American coastline is vulnerable to erosion and other serious problems. The oysters can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day and form reefs that slow damaging storm surges. Yet industrial pollution and man-made disasters like the BP oil spill threaten the vitality of fish populations.
Another problem is the lack of nutritional value that our imported farm fish provide. The Alaskan salmon we export are some of the most nutritionally dense fish in the world, while the farm fish we import provide nowhere near the amount of protein that comparable seafood would. What’s more, Greenberg claims, “Only 2 percent of the seafood we import gets any kind of look from the FDA at all.”
Despite its staggering statistics, American Catch isn’t so much of a doomsday book as it is a call to action. It reminds us that the key to sustainability and an increased standard of living is to keep things local. With Greenberg’s research and an appreciation for local products in mind, we can all make better choices for our diets, our coastlines and our communities.