American Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood

American Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood

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by Christopher Lane

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"A fascinating discussion of a multifaceted issue and a passionate call to action" —Kirkus

In American Catch, award-winning author Paul Greenberg takes the same skills that won him acclaim in Four Fish to uncover the tragic unraveling of the nation’s seafood supply—telling the surprising story of why Americans stopped eating

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"A fascinating discussion of a multifaceted issue and a passionate call to action" —Kirkus

In American Catch, award-winning author Paul Greenberg takes the same skills that won him acclaim in Four Fish to uncover the tragic unraveling of the nation’s seafood supply—telling the surprising story of why Americans stopped eating from their own waters.

In 2005, the United States imported five billion pounds of seafood, nearly double what we imported twenty years earlier. Bizarrely, during that same period, our seafood exports quadrupled. American Catch examines New York oysters, Gulf shrimp, and Alaskan salmon to reveal how it came to be that 91 percent of the seafood Americans eat is foreign.

In the 1920s, the average New Yorker ate six hundred local oysters a year. Today, the only edible oysters lie outside city limits. Following the trail of environmental desecration, Greenberg comes to view the New York City oyster as a reminder of what is lost when local waters are not valued as a food source.

Farther south, a different catastrophe threatens another seafood-rich environment. When Greenberg visits the Gulf of Mexico, he arrives expecting to learn of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill’s lingering effects on shrimpers, but instead finds that the more immediate threat to business comes from overseas. Asian-farmed shrimp—cheap, abundant, and a perfect vehicle for the frying and sauces Americans love—have flooded the American market.

Finally, Greenberg visits Bristol Bay, Alaska, home to the biggest wild sockeye salmon run left in the world. A pristine, productive fishery, Bristol Bay is now at great risk: The proposed Pebble Mine project could under¬mine the very spawning grounds that make this great run possible. In his search to discover why this pre¬cious renewable resource isn’t better protected, Greenberg encounters a shocking truth: the great majority of Alaskan salmon is sent out of the country, much of it to Asia. Sockeye salmon is one of the most nutritionally dense animal proteins on the planet, yet Americans are shipping it abroad.

Despite the challenges, hope abounds. In New York, Greenberg connects an oyster restoration project with a vision for how the bivalves might save the city from rising tides. In the Gulf, shrimpers band together to offer local catch direct to consumers. And in Bristol Bay, fishermen, environmentalists, and local Alaskans gather to roadblock Pebble Mine. With American Catch, Paul Greenberg proposes a way to break the current destructive patterns of consumption and return American catch back to American eaters.


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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this sobering and crisply told tale of excess and loss, American seafood imports doubled and our seafood exports quadrupled between 1985 and 2005, according to Greenberg (Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food). Focusing on three local American seafoods—Eastern oysters, Gulf shrimp, and Alaska salmon—he explores the history of the seafood, its demise in certain waters, and the impact of the loss of a species on the surrounding ecology. Until the end of the 19th century, for example, oyster banks dotted the East Coast, providing not only sustenance and a source of income for coastal towns but also keeping local waters clear, since oysters filter mud and silt from the water that washes over them. Greenberg focuses on the decline of oysters in the bays around N.Y.C., where pollution destroyed entire populations. In the company of aquatic biologists attempting to rebuild oyster banks in New York waters, Greenberg discovers the difficulties of recreating an extinct seafood population. Greenberg points out the disastrous ecological consequences of farming seafood: given that 90% of the shrimp American eat is imported, and two-thirds of the salmon farmed, our marshes, estuaries, and wetlands serve no purpose. In the end, he suggests that the seafood sector must break its ties to other extractive industries—the oil and gas industry, commercial agriculture—in order to survive and flourish and do good business with the planet. (July)
Kirkus Reviews
Blue Ocean Institute fellow Greenberg (Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food, 2010, etc.) offers an optimistic perspective on the connection between preserving our salt marshes and restoring America's offshore seafood production.The author presents three illustrative case studies: the effort to bring oysters back to our Eastern shores, the threat to Alaska's wild salmon industry from mining interests, and the effect of globalization on Gulf Coast shrimp. The importance of maintaining and extending our salt marshes is an accepted tenet of environmentalists, but the importance of seafood in maritime ecology is frequently overlooked—e.g., reducing pollution, creating buffers against flooding and more. Greenberg explains why fishing is not merely an extractive enterprise; it plays a critical role in maintaining the health of waterways and marshes, as well as furthering the establishment of “economically viable waterfront communities, and good, healthful food.” The author suggests that one reason Americans do not prioritize protecting fish resources, such as Alaskan wild salmon, is that seafood no longer is a major component of the national diet, despite its known health value. Enlisting the consumer as an advocate for expanding the fishing industry on our home turf can make the difference between relative apathy and passionate advocacy. Greenberg describes the ongoing efforts of young volunteers to rejuvenate East Coast oyster production in New York and New Jersey. Not only is this an effort to recapture nature's bounty at some future date; it is also an immediate resource for cleaning the polluted waters. He explains how oyster reproduction depends on the buildup of reefs made of discarded shells, and he chronicles current efforts to replicate these artificially. He also shows how the shrimp industry in Louisiana operates in a global market and offers a historical perspective on the early role of Chinese immigrants in developing an Asian market for dried shrimp.A fascinating discussion of a multifaceted issue and a passionate call to action.

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Product Details

Brilliance Audio
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5.37(w) x 7.50(h) x 0.50(d)

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
The New Yorker
“Greenberg, who laughs easily and resembles Paul Giamatti’s distant cousin, is the author of American Catch, which explores the fishy problem of why Americans have all but stopped eating seafood from their own waters. Here’s the uniquely American catch: ninety-one per cent of the seafood we eat comes from abroad and much of it is farmed, while one-third of what we catch is exported, and much of that is wild... Greenberg’s breezy, engaging style weaves history, politics, environmental policy, and marine biology through its three chapters.”

The Washington Post:
"Americans need to eat more American seafood. It’s a point [Greenberg] makes compellingly clear in his new book, American Catch: The Fight for our Local Seafood...Greenberg had at least one convert: me.”

The Wall Street Journal:
“Paul Greenberg so desires to revive the New York City oyster that he did the unthinkable: He ate a New York City oyster... This is Mr. Greenberg’s ultimate goal—to get us to eat the seafood from our nation’s bounty.”

Jane Brody, New York Times
“There is nothing inherently wrong with farmed seafood, says Paul Greenberg, the author of two excellent books on seafood, Four Fish:, The Future of the Last Wild Food and, just published, American Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood. Mr. Greenberg describes several efforts to produce and market farmed seafood in an environmentally sound manner. Governments like ours would be wise to divert some of the subsidies that sustain animal husbandry on land to the underwriting of sound fish-farming practices.”

The Los Angeles Times
“If this makes it sound like American Catch is another of those dry, haranguing issue-driven books that you read mostly out of obligation, you needn’t worry. While Greenberg has a firm grasp of the facts, he also has a storyteller’s knack for framing them in an entertaining way.”

The Guardian (UK)
“A wonderful new book”

Tom Colicchio:
"This is on the top of my summer reading list. A Fast Food Nation for fish.”

Seattle Times
The salmon run may have found its own passionate champion in Greenberg, who has spent years covering the topic. Bristol Bay salmon is featured along with New York oysters and Gulf Coast shrimp in Greenberg’s new book, American Catch: The Fight For Our Local Seafood... Greenberg talks about the peculiar logic that’s caused our local seafood system to unravel, and what’s at stake if we don’t reel it back in.”

The Boston Globe
Greenberg, a longtime commentator on aquaculture and the oceans, again blends reportage, history, and advocacy, organizing one chapter each around three species... Greenberg describes a wondrous moment — in the Bronx, of all places; while in search of reintroduced specimen he stumbles on “a real live, naturally spawned New York City oyster . . . [a] brave sentry from a lost kingdom.” Greenberg is at his best describing such epiphanies — he also writes beautifully about fishing for salmon in Alaska, which offers up similar reveries.”

Kirkus Reviews:
"An optimistic perspective... A fascinating discussion of a multifaceted issue and a passionate call to action."


Sam Sifton, The New York Times Book Review
“[Four Fish] is a necessary book for anyone truly interested in what we take from the sea to eat, and how, and why.”

Richard Eder, 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.”
“[An] excellent, wide-ranging exploration of humankind’s relationship with fish.”

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.”

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