By Kay Steiger
I read Four Fish by Paul Greenberg this summer, a book that Food & Think put on its summer reading list for foodies. The book is definitely worth reading, recounting the fascinating history of domesticating cod, tuna, salmon, and sea bass over the last few decades.
One interesting point that Greenberg brings up toward the end of the book, however, is about overall conservation of fish. He notes that those little cards distributed by environmental groups, like this one from the Environmental Defense Fund, are often sold as a “guide” to consuming fish that are good for the environment. But Greenberg argues that even though such guides may make people feel good about consuming eco-friendly fish, individual choices about fish consumption have virtually no impact on the overall survival of fish populations.
That part, he argues, is more in the court of countries’ regulations on fishing and the actions of commercial fishers. He argues that in order to preserve fish populations, it will take a concerted international cooperative effort to actually manage fish populations. What kind of fish we eat for dinner, he says, just won’t make that much of an impact. Besides, he says, those groups that put out the green, yellow, and red fish guides say the tools are really about awareness anyway.
This is an interesting — and frankly — controversial point. The same could perhaps be argued about factory farming practices or even vegetarianism, although fish is perhaps a unique case because of its inherently international nature. I’m interested to see what folks think about this. The pro is that you can help create demand for eco-friendly fish by having a widespread enough movement. The con is that it can create overwhelming feelings of guilt when you do consume fish on the “red” list.
My perspective has been that boosting awareness and encouraging folks to consume foods that are good for the environment is valuable in that it creates a sense of value about these issues and creates pressure for laws and regulations to accommodate that perspective, but such behaviors are not really in and of themselves making an impactful difference.