*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
Paul Greenberg: The Future Of 'Wild Fish'
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Eating fish has become kind of complicated between worrying that there
may be toxins in the fish and concerns that the fish is farmed or
captured may be bad for the water's ecosystem.
My guest, Paul Greenberg, says we're in a wave of psychological denial
of staggering scope. With wild fish, we've ignored the fundamental
limits the laws of nature placed on ecosystems, and we've removed more
fish than can be replaced by natural processes.
When wild stocks become over-exploited, we've turned to domestication,
but some of the fish we've chosen to farm don't make ecological sense.
In his new book, "Four Fish," Greenberg looks at what's happened to
salmon, sea bass, cod and tuna, four fish which he says humanity is
trying to master either through the management of a wild system, through
domestication and farming of individual species, or through the outright
substitution of one species for another.
Greenberg has written about the oceans and fish for the New York Times
magazine, book review and opinion page.
Paul Greenberg, welcome to FRESH AIR. Now, you write in your book that
in the early 2000s, you started noticing that no matter where you went,
there were four varieties of fish that were consistently appearing that
had little to do with the waters adjacent to the fish markets where you
were. And those four fish were salmon, sea bass, cod and tuna, the four
fish you write about in the book. So was that different from the past,
that there were four prominent fish?
Mr. PAUL GREENBERG (Author, "Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild
Food"): Well, yeah, fish were different 35-odd years ago, when I was a
kid, and I would often visit fish markets no matter where I was.
I grew up in Sperman(ph), Connecticut, and I loved to go down to the Bon
Ton Fish Market there and check out what was on the ice. And by and
large, what we would see would be pretty much entirely wild fish. You
know, forty-odd years ago, everything we ate from the sea was wild,
pretty much everything. Today, almost half of what we eat is farmed. So
it's a huge, huge epical shift.
The four fish that I talk about that are now appearing very regularly in
the market, two of them are farmed, that is the Atlantic salmon and the
European sea bass, often also called branzino. And you see those pretty
much all the time.
And then the other ones, tuna and codfish, are not farmed yet, or at
least not in any large number, but their commercial exploitation has
expanded to the point where it's such a huge, global market that they
tend to appear everywhere.
GROSS: So let's take a look at salmon. What does salmon represent in the
larger picture that you're looking at, how fish have changed and how
humans consume and farm fish have changed?
Mr. GREENBERG: Yeah, well, gradually with the way humans have used fish,
we started inland and moved further and further offshore. And salmon
represent that first step, with fish that â you know, salmon spawn in
freshwater rivers. They're nearby. And we have very close intimate
interaction with them right where we live.
So they were one of the first fish that we really hit hard with
industrialization. Dams and pollution and all of these different things
caused wide scale extirpation of salmon, particularly Atlantic salmon,
throughout their range.
And now what we've seen is, you know, salmon was really the first large-
scale domestication project that happened with the fish that we eat.
There are many more farmed salmon in the world than wild salmon. And
it's a kind of, you know, replacement of a wild-food system with a
domestic-food system that has started to be a kind of a model moving
GROSS: So is it mostly the Atlantic that's lost the salmon, still a lot
of wild salmon in the Pacific?
Mr. GREENBERG: Yeah, I mean, there are still pretty strong runs of
Pacific salmon, particularly in Alaska and the Russian Far East. But in
the Atlantic, basically Atlantic salmon are commercially extinct.
And this is a very important thing that consumers need to know. You
know, a lot of times when you see salmon in the marketplace, you'll see
Scottish salmon, Irish salmon or even Nova salmon. I think, you know,
probably you grew up eating Nova lox, for example, right? You know, that
was lox from Nova Scotia.
Mr. GREENBERG: Well today â right? You know?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. GREENBERG: Today, all those fish are farmed. You know, there is
almost no wild Atlantic salmon left in the Atlantic. I mean, I've heard
the number at something like 500,000 fish total.
So what we've essentially done is we've replaced an extremely productive
and, you know, calorie-rich and highly nutritious food system, wild food
system, with a domesticated one. And that began in the late 1960s, and
it's been probably the driver in changing the way we're taming the sea.
GROSS: Let's talk about how salmon are farmed. First of all, you use the
word captive when describing salmon, and I never thought of farmed fish
as captives. I always have this image of, like, fish swimming around in
kind of like a fenced-off part of the sea.
Mr. GREENBERG: Home on the range, right?
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: Yeah, so, like, okay, they couldn't venture far, but they can,
like, swim around. They have their food brought to them, so they don't
have to worry about survival. And, you know, of course they're killed
for us to eat, but I never thought of them quite as, like, captive.
Mr. GREENBERG: Well, yeah, and in fact, you know, they're often confined
in pretty tight spaces. You know, the technology around modern
aquaculture or fish farming, that's what aquaculture is often called
scientifically, really developed around salmon.
And what they consist of are sort of hoop-shaped cages that are often
put up in sort of symmetrical arrays. In Norway, they started doing them
in fjords, where they were protected from, you know, wave and wind, and
the same deal in the Bay of Fundy in Canada. And, you know, the fish are
pretty crammed in there.
And what they'll do is they'll usually start them indoors, in tanks when
they're still at a very fragile stage. And then what they'll do is
they'll transfer them to these large pens. They're â you know,
sometimes, they're called sea pens or sea cages, where they grow out for
a couple of years until they're ready for harvest.
GROSS: Is there room for them to swim, or are they basically just penned
Mr. GREENBERG: No, no, they can swim. And in fact, for their own health,
they have to be able to swim, and they tend to kind of circle around.
But you bring up a good point, which is that, you know, the density of
salmon is a really big issue in terms of its environmental effects.
Keep in mind that most salmon are grown in wild salmon country, right?
So if you put a lot of farmed salmon, confined in cages, in a place
where migrating wild salmon still exist, there are going to be
deleterious effects on the wild population.
The first that are crammed in real tight, you do get outbreaks of
disease. There's been a rolling disease called infectious salmon anemia,
which causes bleeding in salmon kidneys. There's a huge problem with a
parasite called sea lice, which affixes to â you know, it's a naturally
occurring parasite, but when you have fish in extreme densities, then,
you know, the sea lice are drawn in to this sort of, you know,
aggregation of food.
And there's been some studies that show that sea lice do transfer to the
wild populations, and because wild populations of Atlantic salmon are so
depressed throughout their range â you know, maybe if there were a lot
of wild Atlantic salmon out there, the interaction wouldn't be so bad,
but with the numbers being so low as they are right now, anything that
knocks them down a peg is a real, real problem.
And, so, you know, the salmon farming industry has a real issue on its
hands with how do they continue to produce product for the market
without destroying wild runs of existing Atlantic salmon.
GROSS: Now, another concern about farmed salmon is what they're fed and
how much they have to be fed. What are the concerns?
Mr. GREENBERG: Well, yeah. This is another big issue about the sort of
replacement of a wild food system with a domesticated food system. You
know, what do salmon eat? Well, on the farm, anyway, what they eat is
other fish. And where do those fish come? The wild.
So, you know, the global catch right now in the world is 90 million
tons, which is a lot of fish. You know, it's equivalent to the human
weight of China removed from the sea every year.
A third of that is what they call forage fish: herring, anchovies,
little things like that. And incidentally, the weight of all of those
taken out of the sea every year would be the equivalent of the human
weight of the United States taken out every year.
Those are harvested every year. They are made into feed pellets. And in
the early days of aquaculture, the early days of salmon aquaculture, the
feeding was extremely inefficient. There wasn't a great deal of care
making sure the salmon actually ate what they were fed.
So there was a lot of waste, and I think in 2000, the journal Nature
published a study that the fish-in, fish-out ratio, in other words the
number of pounds of wild fish that was required to make a pound of
salmon, could be as much as three pounds of wild fish to make one pound
of salmon. So right then and there, you're sort of like, well, that's a
pretty screwy equation. You know, why are we coming up with a net marine
But to its credit, you know, the salmon industry took this somewhat
seriously, or actually very seriously, and because it's also an economic
factor for them because, you know, it's expensive buying all that feed.
And over the years, they've instituted a selective breeding program with
salmon, mostly in Norway, where they took the 40 original salmon strains
in all of these different rivers in Norway, and they crossed them and
they re-crossed them, and they came up with eventually with a salmon
that required half the original feed of its original wild variant.
So, you know, you could say that was a positive ecological move that the
salmon industry did, but unfortunately, the salmon industry keeps
growing so while per-fish efficiency is better, the overall footprint of
the salmon industry is just bigger and bigger. So, you know, it's a
GROSS: So one of the many things I don't understand about fish farming
is who has the rights to the water? Like, are they farmed in actual
rivers or parts of the ocean? And do you need permission from somebody
to use it? I mean, these are public waters...
Mr. GREENBERG: Yeah.
GROSS: So how does a private industry or private company get access to
public waters to farm fish?
Mr. GREENBERG: Yeah, well, that's a big issue. Generally, the farms are
sited not in rivers per se. They're usually in bays and protected areas.
States own waters, you know, United States states, own waters out to
three miles out. So, you know, it has to go through the state to get,
you know, permission.
In the early days of salmon farming, there really wasn't I think an idea
of the value of these sites and the possible impacts they could have. I
should say that there's not that much salmon farming that goes on in the
United States, largely because many states, you know, just don't want
aquaculture in their backyard. There's a lot of sort of NIMBY issues
where coastal landowners don't want to be exposed to salmon farms.
Canada is another story, and, you know, sites are usually leased through
the provincial governments, you know, be they New Brunswick or British
Columbia. And, you know, a lot of the public, you know, that grew up
with, you know, a wild waterfront, they see these salmon farms come in.
They feel, you know, deeply sort of affronted, and they're wondering
what say do I have, and why is this salmon farm being put into what is
basically public property?
You know, every kind of thing that involves the ocean involves the
privatization of a public resource, whether you're fishing for wild
fish, you know, and taking it, you know, for your personal sale as a
business or whether you're taking a chunk of the ocean and turning it
into a sea farm.
You know, that's a privatization, and I think the public needs to know
that, you know, they have as much right to the seafront as, you know, a
fish farmer or a fisherman.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Paul Greenberg. He's the
author of the new book "Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food."
Paul, let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. This
is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Paul Greenberg. We're talking about his new book
"Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food," and he writes about
salmon, cod, sea bass and tuna.
So are farmed salmon any more or less healthy than wild salmon?
Mr. GREENBERG: That's a very, very, very big debate. About 10 years ago,
the Pew Environment Group commissioned one of the largest studies ever
done where they tried to figure out was there any difference between the
sort of industrial contaminants and things like that in farmed salmon
than in wild salmon?
What they found was that actually, yes, there was. The deal was that
wild salmon are actually much more omnivorous than farmed salmon. In the
course of a wild salmon's life, they're likely to eat, you know, little
crustaceans, sometimes some fish, sometimes, you know, crab here and
there, whereas a farmed salmon only eats fish pretty much, plus whatever
soy and corn products are put in there to kind of fill out the fishmeal.
And it turns out that it's really important where that fish comes from.
In the early days of salmon farming, most of the fishmeal that was used
was Northern Hemisphere fishmeal: capelin, herring, mackerel, different
things from the Northern Hemisphere.
And by and large, you know, the Northern Hemisphere has higher
industrial pollutants than the Southern, and with feed in farmed salmon,
it turns out that there were high concentrations of PCBs in the fishmeal
that they were being fed. And the contamination in the fishmeal gets
passed on into the flesh of salmon.
It turns out PCBs, you know, they're polychlorinal biphenyls, are a very
persistent chemical, and they don't wash out of the body very easily.
They take many years for the body to be rid of them.
And the same deal is true with salmon. So if a salmon keeps eating
fishmeal that's contaminated, it'll get a higher and higher toxicity,
and it will eventually pass that on to humans.
So what they found overall, what the Pew study found, was that farmed
salmon overall had higher levels of PCBs than wild salmon. Keep in mind
that this was, you know, close to a decade ago.
And since then, the salmon industry has started to look at Southern
Hemisphere feed sources, mostly Peruvian anchoveta, which are, you know,
caught off of Peru. And the Southern Hemisphere fishmeal generally has
lower PCBs than the Northern Hemisphere fishmeal.
There hasn't been a large-scale subsequent study since that shift
started to occur. So I think the jury is still out. But according to
that original Pew study, PCBs were higher in farmed fish than in wild
GROSS: Before we move on to another fish, what are some of the lessons
learned from the way we farmed salmon that you think should apply to the
farming of other fish?
Mr. GREENBERG: Well, two things. When you farm a fish in proximity to
its wild equivalent, you're taking on considerable risks, and you
potentially threaten a viable wild food system. And I truly believe that
those things need to be taken into account before any kind of farming is
introduced into the open sea.
What's come out of this - there are some really interesting what are
called re-circulating aquaculture facilities and development. There's a
guy named Yonathan Zohar down at the University of Maryland at
Baltimore, I think it's called the COMB Lab, who has literally got a
fish farm set up in downtown Baltimore where, you know, all the inputs
and outputs are controlled.
Even, you know, the waste products are recycled, and it has no negative
interaction with the wild. It's energy intensive, but at the same time,
it's something that could conceivably reduce the food miles that, you
know, fish have to travel. You know, if you can grow fish in downtown
Baltimore and feed it to Baltimoreans, you know, that's probably a
pretty good energy equation.
The other than came up that I found really interesting, when I was up in
New Brunswick, I met a guy named Thierry Chopin, who was doing a project
called integrated multi-trophic aquaculture, or IMTA.
And what that does is to kind of turn the whole equation of monoculture
of salmon on its head and say, you know, let's not just grow one, single
crop. You know, we've learned that with, like corn and beef and all that
kind of stuff, that monoculture is generally a bad environmental choice.
What Thierry is doing with IMTA is that he's growing salmon, mussels,
sea cucumbers and edible, industrial-use algae all in a polyculture.
Those different extractive creatures, like mussels and sea cucumbers and
algae, remove waste from the water.
It's still a pilot project. It's not scaled up to industrial use, but
I'd like to see more of that kind of work happen.
GROSS: Let's look at cod. What does cod represent in the big picture
that you're writing about?
Mr. GREENBERG: Well, as I said before, the exploitation of sea starts
inshore and moves further and further offshore. And what cod represents
is this sort of epic industrial move to the continental shelves, where,
you know, beginning around the Middle Ages, huge aggregations of cod
were found, first off of Europe. But then people like Mark Kerlanski(ph)
would posit that that's what brought the Vikings to the New World in the
first place were these huge, epically large amounts of cod on the Grand
Banks in Canada and then the Georges Bank off of Massachusetts.
So â and they really represent the sort of industrialization of fishing.
If all of that cod had never been found, I don't think we'd have a fish
stick today. And, you know, it's the sort of re-imagining of fish, not
as this sort of local, artisanal product but as this mass-scale
industrial thing that, you know, fills up our supermarkets and our fast
GROSS: So once cod started being used for fish sticks and all the fish
stuff in the fast food restaurants and the frozen food sections, how did
that affect the fish, the cod itself?
Mr. GREENBERG: Well, what it did was cause a huge build-up in what's
called fishing effort, just bigger and bigger boats, more and more nets
in the water, bigger and bigger technology. Because keep in mind, the
real big buildup that happened in fishing was post-World War II, you
know, when all this new technology, you know, sonar for finding
submarines, turned, you know, was easily repurposed to sonar to find
All these polymers, you know, were turned into, you know, huge nets and
things that allowed us to just catch many, many more fish. And what we
saw was, you know, the destruction of two of the greatest fishing
grounds the world has ever seen, the Grand Banks off Canada closed in
the late '80s, early '90s, and then large chunks of Georges Bank closed
to fishing in 1994.
And we've been sort of waiting ever since, trying to see, is cod going
to come back? And if not, what else can we find out there to fill our
GROSS: So is there no more cod left, or is it just a different type of
cod that's available now?
Mr. GREENBERG: Well first of all, when talking about the ocean, a lot of
people try to reframe things in the terms of the land, and they say, you
know, cod is extinct, bluefin tuna are extinct.
What we're talking about here is really the loss of abundance, right?
There are probably, you know, even on the Grand Banks, there are
probably on the order of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of cod
still left. But they are what is called commercially extinct. In other
words, the effort it requires to catch those fish isn't really worth the
amount of money you can sell those fish at market.
So the Grand Banks is still in pretty bad shape. It's not really showing
very good signs of rebuilding. In America, on Georges Bank and in the
Gulf of Maine, those are, you know, two different, separate populations
of cod, we are seeing some gradual rebuilding.
The Gulf of Maine, according to the fishery service, is 50 percent
rebuilt, although, you know, that has some controversy attached to it.
We also â there are Pacific species of cod, which are still pretty
common, a lot of it caught in Alaska. And there is still a couple of
populations of cod that are, you know, commercially viable. There's a
big population in Scandinavia called the Skry(ph) or wandering cod, and
Iceland also has pretty good, healthy cod stocks at this point.
GROSS: My guest, Paul Greenberg, will be back in the second half of the
show. His new book is called "Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild
Food." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Paul Greenberg, the
author of "Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food." He looks at
salmon, sea bass, cod and tuna and what they reveal about the impact of
fishing and fish farming on water's ecosystems and our health.
In your chapter about cod, you write about tilapia, aka, St. Peter's
fish, which is farmed and is easy to farm. And you describe it as a good
example of a fish that works in an industrialized setting. Is tilapia
relatively new to American fish markets? I don't remember it from when I
Mr. GREENBERG: Yeah, it's completely new. One fish farmer I talked to
said that when he first heard the word tilapia he thought it was a
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. GREENBERG: But tilapia, it's a Latin name. What happened with
tilapia, it's kind of an interesting story. Some early work was done in
Israel. Israel is a very early aquaculturist. But it was also something
that people in the Peace Corps really embraced because they found that
tilapia, it's one of these things where you can just throw it in a pond
and it will eat whatever is in there and it grows and doesn't require
too much effort. So it was this kind of like perfect development fish
that you could introduce into ponds throughout the developing world. It
was a good way of getting protein.
And so what happened throughout actually coincidentally with the crash
of Georges Bank cod and Grand Banks cod, is that tilapia culture started
getting serious, particularly in Latin America. And a lot of former
Peace Corps volunteers who, you know, became businessmen sort of said
well, let's try and turn this fish into something that works for a
Western market. And it really started to kind of get going in the late
'90s and it, you know, now I think it's the fifth most popular fish in
GROSS: So if you eat a lot of tilapia - farmed tilapia - is that
considered a healthy fish?
Mr. GREENBERG: Tilapia, because they don't eat a lot of fish meal, they
don't have the omega-3 profile that, you know, so many nutritionists say
we should be having. That said, as a form of protein, it's better, I
think, to eat a low fat fillet of, you know, a sustainably raised fish,
than a big chunk of beef or even pork or chicken. It's just leaner.
There are some concerns.
Tilapia has something called an omega-6 in it. And frankly, I haven't
gone too far into the health aspects on that one but I've gotten a few
emails from nutritionists that say that there are some potential
ancillary health problems with eating too many omega-6 - having to do
with inflammation of tissue and things like that. But overall, you know,
I eat tilapia. I think it's a better, you know, in the profile of food
that we have to eat out there, I think it's certainly a better choice
GROSS: So let me sum up what we just learned. You've basically told us
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: Salmon are farmed in ways that are probably not environmentally
Mr. GREENBERG: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: That they may have PCBs. They did about a decade ago. We're not
sure now. So it's a kind of discouraging picture. But tilapia, which are
farmed in a much more environmentally correct ways with better food and,
they're not as healthy as salmon.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: So, what am I supposed to do when I'm ordering? You know, if I
order the salmon then I feel really bad because of the poor ways that
most salmon are farmed. If I order tilapia I'm not getting the benefits
Mr. GREENBERG: Yeah. First of all, I think this is the problem with the
kind of paring down of fish markets down to these, sort of, four basic
fish. You know, the answer might be sort of none of the above. And I'd
go back to like if you want to eat something that's healthy and not
damaging to the environment, you know, smaller fish like herring, like
mackerel, anchovies, sardines, those are all really good nutritious
kinds of things that have a good omega-3 profile.
They're not the kinds of things that we are accustomed to eating. You
know, like I think Americans in general don't like too fishy a fish, but
we might need to kind of readjust to that and kind of start to embrace
fish that are smaller and, you know, easier on the environment. As far
as, you know, tilapia are concerned, I mean listen, we eat all sorts of
unhealthy stuff, right? We shouldn't be eating as much beef, right? We
shouldn't be eating as much chicken, probably.
You know, Mark Bittman, who I've been having these endless back and
forths about, you know, whether we should farm fish or not, he is saying
well, we should just be eating less of everything. We should be eating
less meats and more vegetables. Same thing is true of fish. Let's eat
wild salmon. But if we're going to eat it let's eat it sparingly 'cause
there's not a lot of it. You know, they're still very healthy runs of
Pacific salmon out there, but, you know, not so that the whole world can
have a huge chunk of it every day. But a little bit of it every week,
it's not a bad thing to do.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Paul Greenberg. We're
talking about his new book "Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild
Let's take a break here and then we'll talk some more about fish.
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Paul Greenberg. His new book is called "Four Fish:
The Future of the Last Wild Food." And in this book he writes about
salmon, tuna, bass and cod.
Let's take a look at tuna. What do they represent in the big picture
that you're writing about?
Mr. GREENBERG: Tuna are really the last wild fish gold rush that's going
on right now. Tuna often live in what are called the high seas, the
international waters that are owned by nobody and fished by everybody.
Bluefin tuna cross the Atlantic and the Pacific, so do yellowfin and
albacore - are quite far-ranging as well. So they're really the wildest
of fish that we have out there. And the sushi binge that's happened over
the last 20 years is having a serious affect on them. And so I guess
they represent fish, you know, whether they should be seafood or
wildlife, and I think they're at the heart of that debate right now.
GROSS: No. What do you mean by the difference between seafood and
Mr. GREENBERG: Well, you know, seafood is one of my favorite and most
hated words. I mean when you think about it, what a cruel word. And it's
consistent language to language. Europeans call seafood, you know, sea
fruit, fruit de mer. Russians, I think, say dari(ph) morelle(ph), which,
you know, gifts of the sea. So there's this sort of generic thing. Like
there's all this stuff down there and we just kind of pull it up and we
sort of parse it and figure out what's good, and throw the rest
overboard, and we eat it.
But meanwhile, you know, these creatures are wildlife. You know, these
are wild animals that have incredible life cycles. You know, bluefin
tuna can be 12-14 feet long, 1500 pounds. They can swim up to 40 miles
an hour. They have organs in their head that act as both a sextant and
as a compass. You know, they're incredible, incredible animals and yet,
you know, we generally think of them as sushi.
So, you know, that I think is something that really needs to be
reevaluated at this point. And we have to figure out, you know, what
does work as food and what is better left as an animal. And, you know,
tuna, particularly Atlantic bluefin tuna, may be the thing that we
should think of more as wildlife than food.
GROSS: Now the tuna swim through international waters, so what problems
does that pose in terms of regulating the fishing of tuna?
Mr. GREENBERG: The problem it poses is that there's no really hard fast
way to regulate them.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. GREENBERG: There are what are called - there's 18 regional fisheries
and management organizations that are kind of like these United Nations
that sit down and kind of hash out, you know, who is going to get what
from all the tuna. But a lot of times the negotiations around tuna are
built around sort of political compromises that, you know, while there
are scientific committees that say you shouldn't take more than this
much, a lot of times they'll just sort of say well, you know, you know,
Ivory Coast wants more yellowfins and no - but they'll swap us this for
that. And you end up with these kinds of quotas that are not really
You know, the most famous thing of that was that two years ago the
committee that oversees bluefin tuna, Atlantic bluefin, set a quota at
nearly double what scientists on the scientific committee were saying
was the threshold for a catch. So you ended up, you know, where the
population went down and it's now kind of at a crisis point. And whereas
bluefin are kind of the tip of the iceberg, there are all these other
tuna species below them that are still in reasonably good shape, but are
the kind of next thing on the chopping block should we go through our
GROSS: Now a lot of people say we shouldn't even be eating big fish like
tuna because that's not healthy. What are the problems?
Mr. GREENBERG: The bigger fish, the bigger tuna, there is a mercury
issue that happens. Just like PCBs, mercury does something called
bioaccumulation. Mercury contamination levels get more intense the
higher you go up the food chain and tuna are, you know, at the top of
the food chain so they have the highest mercury levels.
It varies from species to species. But certainly bluefin have a mercury
risk. That's the main thing to watch out for. Also, some people say
that, you know, again, tuna are a fattier fish again, particularly
bluefin. And if the benefit we're looking for in fish is a leaner kind
of meat, then maybe bluefin isn't really where we should be going in the
GROSS: I don't know how carefully you've been following the Gulf, but
what's your understanding of the fish that are going to be most at risk
from the oil spill?
Mr. GREENBERG: Well, the Gulf is a very kind of insidious thing
happening. The fish that are going to be affected the most, I think, are
going to be the big fish like bluefin tuna, yellowfin tuna, Atlantic
swordfish - because they all spawn in the Gulf. And what I think is
going to happen is that right now there are plenty of yellowfin tuna and
swordfish around to make it seem like everything's fine. But the spill
occurred during, you know, a summer when there should be a lot of
spawning going on.
And I think what's going to happen is we're going to keep catching
yellowfin tuna, bluefin tuna and swordfish throughout the next few
years, and in four or five years from now, the fish that should have
spawned in 2010 and 2011 just aren't going to be there. There's going to
be a huge drop off. And so I guess my thing I've been thinking about in
terms of the Gulf, is we need to be thinking about is keeping as many of
these fish in the water right now.
It's kind of going back to salmon. It's kind of the equivalent to what
happened to some of the big salmon runs when the big dams were put up in
the Pacific Northwest. You know, once those dams got put up, salmon
couldn't return to their spawning grounds and those runs oftentimes
ended or were severely reduced.
This Gulf spill represents, kind of like, a huge potential, like a
biochemical dam in the Gulf. So I really believe the time to start
thinking about conserving them is now so that, you know, hopefully four
or five years from now the Gulf might clear enough so that these fish
can spawn again.
GROSS: What about seafood that is so associated with the Gulf Coast,
like shrimp, catfish?
Mr. GREENBERG: Catfish are farmed and they're farmed inland and I don't
think they should be a problem. Shrimp's another story. The oil itself,
you know, had it been left alone might not have been - I mean, I'm sure
it would be a problem for any kind of thing that lives in the Gulf. But
once you spray Corexit, you know, the dispersant on that oil, you break
it up into smaller particles to the point where it can get ingested by
small creatures like shrimp, like oysters. Some people have said that
there is no toxicological problem with these fish and shell fish
ingesting oil and hydrocarbons, that they should be able to kind of
process that. But nobody knows what the toxicological implication is
going to be of Corexit plus oil. You know, what chemical that forms
GROSS: That's the dispersant.
Mr. GREENBERG: That's the dispersant. Right. Corexit changes the
chemical formulation of oil and probably, you know, makes it in a way
probably more absorbable by a lot of these creatures. So we could've
just really seriously polluted our seafood supply by spraying those
dispersants in the Gulf.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Paul Greenberg. He's the
author of the book "Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food."
I guess, you know, I never really thought of fish as the last wild food
until I saw the title of your book.
Mr. GREENBERG: Yeah. You know, and that's what I think is amazing about
the ocean. You know, a lot of the book is - there's a fair amount of my
going fishing and that's how I fist encountered fish. I never bought
seafood, I always caught it. And so for me it was always wild. That
consumers have become so detached from it that they don't even really
think of it as wild is disturbing to me.
A lot of people I know, you know, perfectly intelligent college educated
people, if I mention a fish to them they can't even really say what it
looks like or how big it is or, you know, what it does in the wild. So I
kind of think that, moving forward - you know, I'm not saying that we
should stop fishing or that we shouldn't have this wild food - quite the
contrary. I think it's a beautiful thing to have abundant wild food in
When you think about what happened on the Great Plains - before American
colonists arrived, there was somewhere in the order of probably 60
million bison, and today there are, you know, about 100 million head of
cattle. So we basically replaced a functioning wild food system with a
domesticated one that has all sorts of environmental repercussions and
all sorts of costs associated with it.
Where we stand right now with fish, is, you know, as I said earlier, 50
percent of our seafood is now farmed. We could end up replacing a very
good and beautiful and functional wild food system with an expensive,
potentially environmentally degrading farm food system, and I don't want
that to happen. I want there to be wild food. I think there has to be
some farmed fish as well, but we need to figure out a way to farm it and
a way that does not affect the wild populations.
GROSS: Well, Paul Greenberg, thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. GREENBERG: Thanks so much, Terry. It was a lot of fun.
GROSS: Paul Greenberg is the author of the new book "Four Fish: The
Future of the Last Wild Food."
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
Two Ladies: Are You Team Bella, Or Team Lisbeth?
TERRY GROSS, host:
Our critic-at-large, John Powers, has been thinking about two currently
popular heroines: Bella, from the "Twilight" series, and Lisbeth from
Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy. John says these heroines have more
in common than you might think.
JOHN POWERS: If you look at the most successful pop franchises over the
last 50 years - from James Bond to "Star Wars" to "Harry Potter" - one
thing is obvious: They're dominated by men, which makes it all the more
remarkable that right now, there are two cultural juggernauts centering
on women: the "Twilight" series, created by Stephenie Meyer, and Stieg
Larsson's Millennium trilogy, featuring "The Girl with the Dragon
Tattoo." Together, the novels have sold tens of millions of copies,
while the screen adaptations are raking in dollars by the hundreds of
To be honest, neither Meyer nor Larsson are great writers. But their
legions of fans don't care. That's because "Twilight" and Millennium
offer something they like better than literary merit: primal fantasies.
And what's interesting is that these two fantasies are almost
diametrically opposed, not least in their image of women.
As a young adult series embraced by millions of grownups, "Twilight"
offers a fantasy of perfect love that's pure adolescent romanticism. Its
heroine, Bella, is a high school girl who falls for a handsome vampire,
Edward Cullen, and wants to sleep with him. But the old-school Edward
won't do it, or turn her into a vampire, unless Bella marries him first.
At the same time, Bella's pursued by Jacob Black, a hunk who just
happens to be a werewolf. Sadly, he doesn't have a prayer. You see,
Jacob's from a Native-American family without much money, while the
Cullens live in a fancy house and have an aristocratic air.
While all this may sound rather wild, the whole thing is, in fact,
strikingly square. Things stay at a level of innocence startling for a
present-day vampire story. Here, for example, Bella and her father have
to stop Edward from fighting with Jacob:
(Soundbite of movie, "Twilight: Eclipse")
Ms. KRISTEN STEWART (Actor): (as Bella) Edward?
Mr. ROBERT PATTINSON (Actor): (as Edward) If you ever touch her against
her will again...
Ms. STEWART: (as Bella) Don't do this.
Mr. TAYLOR LAUTNER (Actor): (as Jacob) She's not sure what she wants.
Ms. STEWART: (as Bella) Don't do this.
Mr. PATTINSON: (as Edward) Well, let me give you a clue. Wait for her to
say the words.
Mr. LAUTNER: (as Jacob) Fine. And she will.
Ms. STEWART: (as Bella) Jacob, just go. Okay?
Mr. BILLY BURKE (Actor): (as Charlie) Hey, hey, hey. Easy guys. Easy.
Let's take it down a notch. All right. What's going on?
Mr. LAUTNER: (as Jacob) I kissed Bella.
POWERS: "True Blood" this isn't. Turning on kisses, not nudity, the
series offers a vision of love that could hardly be more conservative.
From beginning to end, the supposed outsider Bella is defined by her
romantic yearnings: love for a man so strong that she'll turn into a
vampire to be with him. By series' end, such a love has entailed staying
a virgin, then getting married out of high school, and then instantly
having babies. A friend whose 10-year-old daughter adores "Twilight"
says he's horrified that she might think Bella is somehow a role model.
On the face of it, he'd be happier with the values of the Millennium
trilogy. It offers not a conservative fantasy of romance, but a liberal
fantasy of perfect justice. Where "Twilight" creates a reality in which
the social world barely appears, stories like "The Girl with the Dragon
Tattoo" take place in a contemporary world overrun with rapists, serial
killers and corporate bigwigs who are essentially gangsters.
Basically, two people stand up against all of this. One is middle-aged
Mikael Blomkvist, a rumpled, womanizing left-wing journalist who's
pretty clearly Larsson's romanticized projection of himself. But the
series' real selling point is its title heroine, Lisbeth Salander, an
extraordinarily vivid pop creation. Abused as a child, Salander has
grown up to be tattooed, pierced, bisexual and aggressively anti-social.
Both a ferocious fighter and a genius computer hacker, Salander is
defined by no man. Instead, she pointedly takes down men who are violent
against women. But to be an unstoppable vessel of justice, she has to
cut herself off from all normal emotion and from everyone else, even
those who care about her.
So far, so good. Yet Millennium's sense of social justice reveals a dark
side of liberal righteousness. These are vigilante tales, structured to
fill us with such rage that we can't wait for Salander to exact her
vengeance. When I recently saw the current episode, "The Girl Who Played
with Fire," the guy in front of me applauded when Salander took an axe
to a baddie. And this was at a screening for a public radio station.
All this makes Millennium so different from "Twilight," that it may seem
incredible they're both popular at the same time. Yet the strength of
both series lies in something their heroines do have in common: an
absolute willingness to go the distance.
Say what you will against them, Bella and Salander are not the silly,
shop-till-they-drop mediocrities celebrated in chick-lit comedies. They
are mythically passionate souls who will do what it takes, even give up
their humanity, in order to achieve perfection. 007 and Luke Skywalker
couldn't do any better than that.
GROSS: John Powers is film critic for Vogue and Vogue.com. You can read
David Edelstein's reviews of the films John mentioned on our website:
Coming up, a 1993 country rock album that was never released in the U.S.
until now. Ken Tucker thinks it's about time. He has a review.
This is FRESH AIR.
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
Seventeen Years Later, The Blue Shadows Reach U.S.
TERRY GROSS, host:
Here's an album you've probably never heard of, "On the Floor of
Heaven." It was the debut album by the Vancouver-based band The Blue
Shadows, and was released in 1993. It consisted primarily of country
rock songs by the group's leaders: the singer guitarist Jeffrey Hatcher
and Billy Cowsill.
"On the Floor of Heaven" was widely praised and sold well in Canada, but
it was never released in the U.S. until now.
Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review.
(Soundbite of song, "Deliver Me")
THE BLUE SHADOWS (Country-Rock Band): (Singing) Driving at midnight and
the moon is looking right at me. I can feel it settling down on me, over
me. Come deliver me from this night. When I left you standing so
KEN TUCKER: 1993 was the year of hit songs such as Whitney Houston's "I
Will Always Love You" and Tag Team's "Whoomp! (There It Is)." It was not
a kind year in which to release a debut album of densely textured
country-rock songs like "On the Floor of Heaven" by the Vancouver-based
quartet, The Blue Shadows.
The dozen original songs on this debut album owed more to "Sweetheart of
the Rodeo," the 1968 album by The Byrds, than it did to anything current
in 1993. Heard now, however, the songs sound timeless, reaching back and
forth across decades of pop music, from the '50s to the present.
(Soundbite of song, "On the Floor of Heaven")
THE BLUE SHADOWS: (Singing) On the floor of heaven, with their heavenly
hands, speaking to no one, knowing they'll understand. All the love
letters written, not a one ever sent. But the time for regretting has
come to an end. On the floor of heaven...
TUCKER: That's the title song of "On the Floor of Heaven," featuring the
plaintive harmonies of group leaders Jeffrey Hatcher and Billy Cowsill.
I hear some of the Everly Brothers in those harmonies, as well as a lot
of hardcore country music in the pedal-steel guitar playing.
Hatcher was a journeyman Canadian musician who'd enjoyed some success
with other bands. Billy Cowsill was something different. He was part of
The Cowsills, an American pop act who'd had a number two hit in 1967
with "The Rain, the Park and Other Things."
The Cowsills were a family act: at their maximum group size, five
Cowsill brothers, a sister, Susan - still very much active - and their
mother, Barbara. If you're of a certain age, you may know that The
Cowsills were the inspiration for the popular TV-show pop-music act The
(Soundbite of song, "When Will This Heartache End")
THE BLUE SHADOWS: (Singing) When will this heartache end? Why won't it
die? How will I love again? Should I even try? She felt so real to me.
Guess I was wrong again. Oh, someone tell me when will this heartache
end? When will my heart be free...
TUCKER: By the time Billy Cowsill came to Jeffrey Hatcher and Canada,
however, The Cowsills had long since faded, and Billy was prone to
substance abuse. He was quoted as saying that The Blue Shadows consisted
of quote, "three vegetarians and a junkie." Certainly, there is some
deeply felt pain - a blue shadow - that spreads across much of this
music. Cowsill, who died in 2006, seems to be standing in that shadow on
this song, "Is Anybody Here."
(Soundbite of song, "Is Anybody Here")
THE BLUE SHADOWS: (Singing) Is anybody here, to hear this song that I've
been crying here, all night long? This feeling so alone, it feels so
wrong. Is anybody here to hear this song?
TUCKER: It would be exaggerating the importance of The Blue Shadows to
say that "On the Floor of Heaven" is a lost masterpiece. What it is is
yet another example of the way pop music is frequently crafted within
the isolation of a group's existence, heedless of the trends of its
time, and at its best, in stubborn pursuit of nothing more than the
sounds the musicians hear in their own heads. In this sense, "On the
Floor of Heaven" is a complete, and frequently exhilarating, success.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly. He
reviewed "On the Floor of Heaven" by The Blue Shadows. You can hear
three songs from the album on our website freshair.npr.org, where you
can also download podcasts of our show.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.