Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food

"Important and stimulating . . . A necessary book for anyone truly interested in what we take from the sea to eat, and how, and why."
- Sam Sifton, The New York Times Book Review

"Finally we have learned that food is best when produced on a small scale in accordance with the rhythms of our planet. Paul Greenberg's warm and witty Four Fish takes this concept to the ocean. Seafood deserves the same kind of respect and political awareness as food from the land. Maybe more."
- Alice Waters

"Four Fish is not only the best analysis I've seen of the current state of both wild and farmed fish - it's a terrific read."
- Mark Bittman, author of How to Cook Everything and Food Matters

"We are lucky to have the exceptional journalist and writer Paul Greenberg turn his attention to one of the greatest threats to our food supply, the depletion of the world's fisheries. By deftly drawing together the strands of a pressing global crisis, Greenberg will change the way you think about the fish you eat."
- Amanda Hesser, New York Times food columnist and a founder of

"If you've ever ordered salmon, if you've ever slurped a bowl of chowder, if you've ever sat down for sushi, Paul Greenberg's friendly and thoughtful book will lure you in, surprise you, probably shock you, and certainly make you think...Read this book."
- Trevor Corson, bestselling author of The Secret Life of Lobsters and The Story of Sushi: An Unlikely Saga of Raw Fish and Rice

The Los Angeles Times: "The signal quality of Greenberg's book is its genial and sometimes despairing struggle with contradiction. Not many who argue for our planet's endangered species also write the thrill of hunting them. Like the fish he once hooked, he plunges away and is reeled back. 'Four Fish' is a serious and searching study. Written with wit and beauty, it is also play."

The Economist: "Four wild fish species dominate the world's seafood markets, but that might not last much longer. As Paul Greenberg observes in a sharp and occasionally lyrical book, we are at a significant moment: farmed fish now make up around half of all the fish consumed by humans."

The Seattle Times: "Greenberg's saga, and his voice, are irresistible. A book that easily could have slid into cheap ideology or wonkiness instead revels in the tragicomic absurdity of nature, humans, and, of course, human nature. Yet it never shies away from the ugly, complicated truths of our modern world."

The Telegraph: "Elegantly composed and strikingly level-headed."

The Guardian: "it's not Greenberg's way to preach; he's happier letting the facts speak for themselves. There's some fairly hard-core science in Four Fish, but it's so skilfully interleaved with the narrative that you absorb it without pain."

The New Yorker: "Paul Greenberg argues that the salvation of wild fish lies in farmed ones, though not in the kind you'll find on ice at Stop & Shop." "Excellent, wide-ranging exploration of humankind's relationship with fish -- the flesh that even many vegetarians consume."

The Globe and Mail: "Greenberg's thesis is a compelling one. We are doing the same thing to fish that we have done in the past to mammals and birds: selecting a handful of desirable species for domestication and abandoning the rest to gradual extinction. We have domesticated goats, sheep, pigs and cattle; we have domesticated chickens, geese, ducks and turkeys. And we are now 'dewilding,' to use Greenberg's phrase, the four species of fish that dominate the marketplace: salmon, cod, sea bass and tuna."

Audubon Magazine: "Unlike many environmental books that overwhelm readers with dismaying news and then offer only a vague and unsatisfying prescription, Four Fish unfolds as an earnest quest for the right path forward."

The Financial Times: "Greenberg writes with tremendous knowledge and passion to tell the engrossing story of the impact of history, geography and politics on our seafood, and offers a clear-eyed manifesto for the future of fish."

The Washington Post: "[Greenberg] seamlessly integrates the decline of wild fish with the rise of fish-farming, noting rightly that humanity is in the process of domesticating the oceans, as we long ago tamed the land, and that eliminating all but a few primary food species is a natural consequence. In writing clearly and engagingly about the place of fish in global food markets, he manages also to convey the often-missed reality that fish are not just food, or even animals, but wildlife. "

The San Francisco Chronicle: "The author's engaging investigations include the rapidly shifting balance between wild and farmed fish. We're now at a historic juncture: More than half our seafood is a product of aquaculture (just as half of us now live in cities) . . . Even if you've read "Cod," "Tuna: A Love Story," "King of Fish" or "Striper Wars," you'll still be hooked by "Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food."

Cleveland Plain Dealer: "Thoughtful, informative and superbly readable."

Kirkus (starred review): An award-winning food journalist brilliantly dissects the relationship between humans and the four fish that dominate the seafood market. Greenberg (Leaving Katya, 2002) addresses how nations can make smarter choices about managing resources and how the individual seafood-lover can support those choices at the dinner table, but he also examines a series of smaller issues: how farmed salmon--an industry badly in need of reform--has inspired a taste for its wild ancestor, why tilapia has suddenly shown up in the market, how the rage for sushi poses new regulatory challenges, why taming sea bass makes little sense. This readable account of our hunt for wild fish and our attempt to domesticate them for consumption will remind many readers of Mark Kurlansky's bestseller Cod (1997), and for good reason. Kurlansky is cited as an authority and even appears as a character in Greenberg's fish story, a pleasing amalgam of memoir, travelogue, history, scientific inquiry, plea for reform and even tasting menu. In colorfully anecdotal, appealing prose, Greenberg focuses on our pursuit of salmon, sea bass, cod and tuna. Each represents an evolutionary step for humans farther out into the ocean. Taken together, they recapitulate humankind's historic attempt at mastery of the sea, "either through the management of a wild system, through the domestication and farming of individual species, or through the outright substitution of one species for another." The author offers prescriptions for managing marine ecosystems and a wise set of principles to guide us forward with domestication, but the tone is never preachy. The narrative is grounded in common sense and anchored by first-rate, on-scene reporting from the Yukon and Mekong Rivers, Lake Bardawil in the Sinai Peninsula and the waters off the coasts of Long Island, Greece, Hawaii and the Shetland Islands. Hugely informative, sincere and infectiously curious and enthusiastic.

Publisher's Weekly: In this unusually entertaining and nuanced investigation into global fisheries, New York Times seafood writer Greenberg examines our historical relationship with wild fish. In the early 2000s, Greenberg, reviving his childhood fishing habit, discovered that four fish--salmon, tuna, bass, and cod--"dominate the modern seafood market" and that "each is an archive of a particular, epochal shift": e.g., cod, fished farther offshore, "herald[ed] the era of industrial fishing"; and tuna, "the stateless fish, difficult to regulate and subject to the last great gold rush of wild food... challeng[es] us to reevaluate whether fish are at their root expendable seafood or wildlife desperately in need of our compassion." He found that as wild fisheries are overexploited, prospective fish farmers are likely to ignore practical criteria for domestication--hardiness, freely breeding, and needing minimal care--instead picking traditionally eaten wild-caught species like sea bass "a failure in every category." Greenberg contends that ocean life is essential to feeding a growing human population and that rational humans should seek to sustainably farm fish that can "stand up to industrial-sized husbandry" while maintaining functioning wild food systems.

Book Page: What appears on our national and global dinner plates has come under intense scrutiny in the last decade, as many of the world's food production practices are devastating the natural abundance and health of planet Earth. In the wake of such eye-opening books as Mark Kurlansky's Cod and, more recently, Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals comes journalist Paul Greenberg's excellent investigation into global fisheries and fishing practices, Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food. Admittedly, Greenberg is a fish guy. As a youngster he avidly fished for bass, first in a pristine pond near his Connecticut home; then, as a teenager, he took to the sea in a beat-up aluminum boat. "I thought of the sea," he writes, "as a vessel of desires and mystery, a place of abundance I did not need to question." But boys grow up, and other interests crowd out childhood passions. The allure of fishing faded until Greenberg decided to revive the habit in the early 2000s. Returning to his former fishing grounds, he found that the flounder, blackfish and mackerel that he used to catch in abundance had moved on, dwindled or disappeared. He traveled up and down the Eastern Seaboard and down into Florida, "fishing all the way" and meeting many fisherman, all of whom had the same complaint: "Smaller fish, fewer of them, shorter fishing windows . . . fewer species to catch." Visiting fish markets (another childhood habit), Greenberg noted that "four varieties of fish consistently appeared that had little to do with the waters adjacent to the fish market in question: salmon, sea bass, cod and tuna." Over the next decade, he determined to find out why "this peculiarly consistent flow of four fish from the different waters of the globe" was ending up on our dinner plate. What follows is an extraordinarily attentive, witty, sensitive and commonsense narrative about salmon, sea bass, cod and tuna that covers their origination, life cycles and the ever-evolving saga of their exploitation by humans. Backed by rigorous research and enlivened by Greenberg's man-on-the-spot reportage, the book charts the history and rise of the world's appetite for these four fish, the industrial fishing practices and the "epochal shifts" in these fish populations-from habitat damage and overfishing of the last wild stocks to the often dubious farming and aquaculture enterprises that now dominate the fish production marketplace. While Greenberg believes that we need the oceans' harvest to feed an ever-increasing human population, he acknowledges that a "primitive" human greed has helped land us in an ecological tangle. But this inspiring book doesn't just diagnose the problem; Greenberg puts forth an ameliorating set of principles that can help us to live in better balance with the "wild oceans" that sustain us