Review: Bottomfeeder

Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood by Taras Grescoe is an insightful look at the way mankind’s greed and technology are changing the oceans.

Part travel journal and part call to action, the fundamental question posed by the book is this: given severe overfishing, high environmental impact from fish farms, and frequent mislabeling in the fish trade, is it possible to eat fish ethically?

I won’t spoil the detailed conclusion, but if you eat fish, you should read this book.  In addition to the big picture question, it includes enjoyable anecdotes on the history of fishing, examines cultural differences in fish consumption and deals squarely with the complex question of whether eating fish is healthy.

On a personal level (and of particular importance to the Pacific Northwest), the detailed look at salmon and shrimp farms was eye-opening.  Although I oft heard the mantra “wild fish are better”, I knew very little about the actual situation.  Much like the factory farms that raise cattle and pigs, it is clear that these farming operations are changing the nature of the fish they are raising, posing health risks (by over confinement) and producing huge amounts of pollutants.  Imagine this:

When it comes to farmed salmon in North America … antibiotic- and colorant-fed salmon can be packed 60,000 into a pen and still legitimately be called “organic.”

Although we’ve already changed the oceans forever and probably can’t avoid a large scale collapse of the fishing industry, we can try to make the most informed choices possible.  For more information on what to eat check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch.

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