I suppose you might call me a wild-fish snob. I don’t want to go into a fish market on Cape Cod and find farm-raised salmon from Chile and mussels from Prince Edward Island instead of cod, monkfish or haddock. I don’t want to go to a restaurant in Miami and see farm-raised catfish from Vietnam on the menu but no grouper.
Those have been my recent experiences, and according to many scientists, it may be the way of the future: most of the fish we’ll be eating will be farmed, and by midcentury, it might be easier to catch our favorite wild fish ourselves rather than buy it in the market.
Bittman’s preconceptions needn’t rule the groaning board. First, a significant number of calories are now safer to consume than in the wild and tastier than farming governed by beancounters rather than foodies.
Mussels being a great example – since these are the last to depart polluted waters and the first to return to tidal climes barely this side of industrial paper plants.
It’s all changed in just a few decades. I’m old enough to remember fishermen unloading boxes of flounder at the funky Fulton Fish Market in New York, charging wholesalers a nickel a pound. I remember when local mussels and oysters were practically free, when fresh tuna was an oxymoron, and when monkfish, squid and now-trendy skate were considered “trash.”
But we overfished these species to the point that it now takes more work, more energy, more equipment, more money to catch the same amount of fish — roughly 85 million tons a year, a yield that has remained mostly stagnant for the last decade after rapid growth and despite increasing demand.
Still, plenty of scientists say a turnaround is possible. Studies have found that even declining species can quickly recover if fisheries are managed well. It would help if the world’s wealthiest fish-eaters (they include us, folks) would broaden their appetites. Mackerel, anyone?
I grew up on the New England coast, years before Mr. Bittman might have snacked his way down the Cape. Subsistence fishing was part of our family life. If you couldn’t afford groceries, you always could cast a line and bring up a flatfish in season.
Day after day, week after week, for months in a row – the same fracking species. Whatever was in season. And the Italian half of the family showed the Scottish half a dozen ways to prepare skate, squid and mackerel, thank you.