Thursday, September 9, 2010

Atlantic bluefin tuna's fate in the Gulf of Mexico explored a timely book

Published: Wednesday, September 08, 2010, 10:50 AM Updated: Wednesday, September 08, 2010, 1:58 PM

The journalist Paul Greenberg has, with a little help from The New York Times, been remarkably successful injecting the plight of the endangered – and perhaps fatally delicious -- bluefin tuna into our national discourse.

Four fish.jpg

His timing could not have been better. Back in June, when coverage of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was at a fever pitch, his book, “Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Fish,” was excerpted on the cover of The New York Times Magazine.

A few of its more salient points:

* The Atlantic bluefin tuna “is a fish that when prepared as sushi is one of the most valuable forms of seafood in the world. It’s also a fish that regularly journeys between America and Europe and whose two populations, or “stocks,” have both been catastrophically overexploited. The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, one of only two known Atlantic bluefin spawning grounds, has only intensified the crisis.”

* “The United States continues to allow bluefin fishing in its waters even though the Gulf of Mexico-spawned stock is considered by many scientists to have entered into full-scale collapse.”

* “BP’s Horizon Deepwater oil rig collapsed into the sea and spewed oil into the only bluefin spawning ground in the Americas just as the few remaining North American stock giant bluefin were preparing to mate in the Gulf of Mexico. Though the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service has been deeply critical of the Mediterranean bluefin catch — in 2007, it went so far as to call for a moratorium — it has been noncommittal about the American fishery.”

In August, a laudatory review of “Four Fish” appeared on the cover of the Times Sunday Book Review. It was authored by the paper’s restaurant critic, Sam Sifton, who wrote:

“The point of the book comes down to the push and pull of our desire to eat wild fish, and the promise and fear of consuming the farmed variety. As Greenberg follows his four species, and our pursuit of them, farther and farther out into the ocean, he posits the sense of privilege we should feel in consuming wild fish, along with the necessity of aquaculture.

“Along the way, Greenberg raises real-life ethical questions of the sort to haunt a diner’s dreams, the kind of questions that will not be easily answered by looking at the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s seafood-watch card. In truth, he shows, there is rarely such a thing as a good wild fish for any of us to eat, at least not if all of us eat it.”

I have not yet read “Four Fish” – it’s next on my list -- only the excerpt and subsequent coverage of the book, which suggests that Greenberg’s work should be on the radar of those charged with rebuilding Louisiana’s fishing industry following the oil spill.

While they’re at it, they should grab a copy of Carl Safina’s “Song for the Blue Ocean,” which takes a scalpel and tweezer to the political struggle surrounding the bluefin’s fate. Safina, a celebrated ecologist and conservationist, has written extensively about the environmental ramifications of the oil spill.

Finally, a Greenberg editorial appeared in last Sunday’s Times. It was keyed to the announcement that aquaculture scientists “had succeeded in spawning the Atlantic bluefin in captivity without hormonal intervention” -- and what that could spell for the bluefin’s future.