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Aug 25, 2009 08:17 PM

Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood

Any one out there read this amazing book?

If you have happily been a pescatarian for even , time to read about your seafood choices!

It seems everyone is getting really informed these days on where their meat comes from but we all (including myself until very recently) think of fish as an safe or even environmental choice, Well this book will turn you on your head!

Now I am onto "the End of Food" which is pretty hard to digest.

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  1. I have a backlog of reading so although this is an interesting topic I'm not likely to get to it, What, if any, are fish that are safe for consumption and the eating of which does the least damage to the ecosystem and fish populations?

    17 Replies
    1. re: greygarious

      This excellent website should be able to answerthose questions.

      1. re: pilinut

        Great call, I was just going to post that link!

        You can get a wallet card to keep on you.. to help with you selections.

        Essentially YES the book is a really horrific look at the state of the seas today, and there is not much in the way of sustainable eating out there. smaller is better. sardines, jelly fish, squid, is all pretty good. TUNA is OUT, as is salmon & shrimp in almost every single case, as most of it is now farmed with a toxic concoction of chemicals and the like. Any big fish is all but extinct. Funny enough it turns out according to the book that McDonalds filet-o-fish is actually one of the most sustainable restaurant fish choices (I am sorry I know I just called McDonalds a restaurant...*let it slide) They use Alaskan Pollock, which is one of the only white fish stocks in a healthy abundance on the globe right now... for how long no ones knows.

        The fact remains that foodies should educate them selves on sustainable fish eating, and remember that state of the world the next time you vote with your wallet.

        It's a really great read.. Harsh but I am so happy to have read it!

        1. re: CookieGal

          Based on what you have posted here, I'd say the New England region guide from Monterey Bay is less restrictive than the suggestions in this book.

          1. re: greygarious

            The above is certainly not inclusive of everything that the book states, just my general regurgitation and what I took away from the read. Obviously sport and hobby fishing for what ever is available at your local lakes etc.. is not relevant to sustainability globally.

            What the book does do is try to give consumers a better insight to what is happening to fish stocks and the health of the seas across the world. Without question there will be areas where certain fish populations are on the increase, often largely due to over fishing a larger fish in those areas.

            There are many great web sites with there own research and expertise on there own local areas, I guess education and information is the key to responsible and safe consuming of seafood, this book is just one avenue. One which I found to be a pretty bleak look at the future of seafood.

          2. re: CookieGal

            With shrimp, it's where you live. Here on the Texas coast, shrimp are plentiful and prices the lowest in years. I just finished some leftover grilled Gulf white shrimp, head off 5.99 a pound. Redfish and speckled trout populations are at record numbers, but flounders are down. Parks and Wildlife just cut the bag limits to five a day, down from twenty a few years ago. What are the all but extinct large fish? Swordfish are making a comeback. Most countries prohibit taking marlin unless the fish are mortally injured, numerous tournaments are held, and the population is stable. TUNA is OUT. Not in the Gulf, they are plentiful. I'm not saying the situation is rosy, but neither is it dire, as some books and the media suggest.

            1. re: James Cristinian

              Yes agree with JCristinian - tuna is definitely out. The blue fin, in particular, is on the verge of extinction.

              As a side note, saw a bone-chilling documentary yest (in the cinema not a rental yet), called The Cove about the dolphin slaughter (and to some extent the larger whales) in Japan. It was pretty gripping.

              1. re: cinnamon girl

                Actually you didn't read the entire post. Tuna is plentiful in the Gulf of Mexico.

              2. re: James Cristinian

                Yep...I live in SWFL and I only buy Gulf it's not that often anymore because it's like $14.99 per pound, a little steep for just the 2 of us but still, one pound feeds both of's a treat anymore, though.

                1. re: Val

                  Yikes! Pass Christian, MS- $2.00 a pound (head on) so fresh that they are still hopping!

                  1. re: Val

                    Good grief!!! I live in Washington DC. The local Harris Teeter, a great chain out of NC, almost always has wild-caught head-on fresh shrimp from the Carolinas. They were $5.99/lb yesterday for big ones.
                    The shrimp trucks along the roads in New Orleans are about that price. Fresh Gulf shrimp.

                    1. re: MakingSense

                      All the way on the west coast, my local market has the largest head-on "minimal bycatch" gulf shrimp for around $8-9/lb.

                      1. re: MakingSense

                        My in-laws just picked me up 30 pounds- I also got 20 pounds of 10 count jumbos for $4 pound.

                        My MIL headed them for me and put them up in the freezer...

                        1. re: Clarkafella

                          Hope you saved those heads for stock!

                          1. re: MakingSense

                            I would have but didn't get the opportunity. But getting them to head the damn things is a trade off I'll make any day!

                  2. re: CookieGal

                    Wallet card, or for us apple addicts, they have an iPhone app too!

                2. re: greygarious

                  I've read excerpts from this book; the situation with our oceans freaks me out so badly I'm not sure I'll get to it either. One thing that I took from the excerpts was about eating the small fry - like sardines. In an interview he waxed eloquent abt buttered rye bread with sardines. So I bought a few tins and have yet to try them. But there are two excellent threads on Chowhound about sardines (one rather recent and it gives a link to the first), if you're feeling inspired to give them a go. I will be once the bounty of summer is gone.

                3. This sushi restaurant in Seattle has recently gone sustainable: Nice of the chef to be so concerned, and how convenient to have the burden of doing your own research lifted. Maybe it will be a trend.

                  1. I scrupulously avoid lobster and whale meat.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: beevod

                      Spiny lobster (except from the Bahamas) is often certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council -- and the traps have minimal environmental impact.

                    2. I would never consider eating an endangered species or an animal that is extremely intelligent (that is just too human for me)- but that's my personal preferences. However, for the Inuit (Eskimo), hunting whale and seal is part of their culture. It's easy to say "so what" but what would the world's christians say if they were told not to eat pig and be deprived of a ham for christmas? I'm not saying that just because something is a part of your culture that it automatically justifies whatever it is you're doing (I think that would be sheer ignorance)- I'm just pointing out that there are other sides to the issue.
                      I also feel that a lot of times people overexagerate the dangers of over fishing. The EPA has many times declared species of animals "endangered" when there is little evidence to prove it. And if it were ever a choice between someone going hungry and saving a species of fish, the choice is a no-brainer for me. I suppose the best choice of action is not to react to this issue emotionally (because it can be an emotional issue, especially for animal lovers) but to examine the real evidence as well as the pros and cons of fishing a specific species. Who is benefitting? What are the real negative consequences?

                      10 Replies
                      1. re: NicoleFriedman

                        This book would be eye opening for you. The writer is a food lover not a PETA supporter.
                        examining the evidence means being proactive, not just assuming that facts you don't want to here are exaggerated.

                        Imagine a not so distant future where the world oceans are toxic plumes of jelly fish, where no food can come from the sea. this future is a reality in MANY once thriving fishery pockets of the worlds coast lines.

                        What makes you think there is no evidence to prove the EPA's claims? Where does the counter "evidence" come from.... I would bet Captian Highlighner is behind it!

                        1. re: CookieGal

                          A better "eyeopener" would be for you to check closely the fishing regulations in individual States. You would quickly see that it's impossible to write a general book about such a topic, except for some big commercial varieties.
                          The authorities closely monitor the population of species and open or close both commercial and sport fishing depending on the fragility or strength of the species. They close fishing during breeding or migration. If the species is threatened, they'll cut it off altogether.
                          How can a published book take such constant changes into account?

                          Some examples might be the Redfish in Louisiana which was fished to near extinction after Paul Prudhomme popularized Blackened Redfish. Even sport fishing was suspended for a time until the species recovered.
                          Chesapeake Bay fishery regulators prohibited the catching of rockfish for a time. They have come back strong but there are different regulations for sport and commercial fishing. Different dates, sizes that can be kept, locations where they can be taken, etc. Fisherman and fishmongers go to jail for breaking the laws.
                          It was only recently that Monterey Bay added Rockfish (stiped bass) as an OK fish after ignoring it for years, but they still make NO distinction about eating it only in season or about size limitations.
                          They still say to "avoid" flounder but there is an open season in many areas of the Chesapeake Bay where it is plentiful.
                          Florida authorities will open and close fishing throughout the year for the same species. Monterey Bay says to "avoid" grouper but it's an important commercial fish in Florida. The State would not allow that if it were endangered. There are NO blanket rules.

                          General publications ignore that there are no simple rules and different regulations for States, the Federal government, and local jurisdictions. They're just dealing in scare tactics, but they sell well to the unwary.

                          The best solution is to eat LOCAL fish in season, bought from a reliable fishmonger.
                          Don't eat anything that has more frequent flyer miles than you do.

                          1. re: MakingSense

                            I responded to CookieGal above, and I completely agree with your post. I live in Houston, fourth largest city in the USA, with the largest petrochemical complex in the US and second largest in the world, all centerd around Galveston Bay and the upper Texas coast, and the fishing is fantastic. If you've never been to the Houston area, the number of chemical plants and refineries east and southeast of the city is staggering. Our biggest problem has been mother nature itself, where freezes all but eliminated the speckled trout populations in 1983 and 1989, plus the blackened redfish craze did likewise to the redfish. Hurricane Ike silted over the oyster beds with debris from what is left of the Bolivar Peninsula. It all comes back, nature is very resiliant, plus Texas Parks and Wildlife does a great job managing populations. They have some great scientists, and the proof is in the fishing.

                            1. re: James Cristinian

                              Some of the best sport fishing around is near the oil rigs. They almost jump into the boat. We used to run the boat out at night after work to fish near the gas flares where they burned off excess natural gas. The ice chest was filled in no time.
                              The scarcity problem, and whether you should or should not eat a certain fish, is far too local for a generalized book.
                              It is illegal to catch rockfish in the beginning of one month but not after the 15th, it has to be at least 38 inches - not 37 - but how can you tell from a fillet?
                              You can't fish for them in the Miles River until it flows into the Chesapeake but there is no dotted line in the water.
                              The rockfish were almost gone a few years ago, now they're teeming, but they're worried about PCBs in some of them. Monterey Bay doesn't even mention that. There are so many that they have become a threat to the declining crab population in some areas. The more I eat, the better. More crabs!
                              Nature is strong and resilient, as you say, but the balance is fragile. A serious freeze or flood, a hurricane, or heavy Spring rains.

                              We really owe a great deal the the wildlife and fisheries management professionals who keep a far better eye on their LOCAL situations than book authors.

                              1. re: MakingSense

                                The fishing in Texas and Louisiana around the rigs is a virtual buffet of the Gulf's best, Ling (cobia), red snapper, dolphin (dorado or mahi mahi), king mackerel. The kings, dorado, and ling can all be over 70 pounds, not quite sure what is a big fish according to CookieGal, "the big fish are all but extinct." Further offshore are wahoo, tuna, and marlin, and they get much larger.

                                1. re: MakingSense

                                  So why is it that when someone takes 5 years of there life to travel, study, interview experts, compile information, and assemble there findings in the format of a book, that it is so easily dismissed as "exaggerated" or "invalid" due to an assumption that it would not contain any one specific area's very seasonal and specific issues.

                                  Had I not read this book, I would have had no idea where Chesapeake Bay is (I am not an American), nor would I have any understanding of the abundant history of fishing in the bay, or the now depleted stocks and the toxins which come from the excessive fertilizer run off in to the bay.

                                  Clearly this book as I said above does not take issue with local small scale and hobby fishermen (which I am assuming some of you are) rather it's purpose is to help educate consumers of the issues that surround the fish they consume, be it served to you in a restaurant, purchased at your local grocery store, ground up and added into your vitamins, or often falsely rendered and mislabels by a chain of unregulated industry giants who care nothing of the health of the seas or the health of the consumers.

                                  1. re: CookieGal

                                    I don't dismiss the book's validity because I have no irrefutable knowledge about the topic. The "best" and "good" Monterey Bay list for my area includes various species of tuna and swordfish, which surprises me. It's pretty rare to find a selection of the smaller fish in supermarkets, but they always have the big ones. In the Boston area this year, they started a dayboat catch version of a CSA. The fishermen catch whatever is running close to shore, and subscribers pick it up at the drop-off points within a day or two. For the first half of the subscription period, it was almost always cod. Some folks, while very happy with freshness and quality, were concerned about sustainability and bottom-dragging, not to mention being disappointed with the lack of variety. I had considered joining but didn't (I was computer-less when the sign-up occurred), and after reading comments from members I decided to wait out the first year to see the final level of satisfaction. It's pretty hard to know the real impact of your seafood purchasing choices.

                                    1. re: CookieGal

                                      I have no idea why the author chose to spend this amount of time researching this topic, nor how he selected the experts he interviewed - or perhaps more importantly, those he ignored. It's possible that he might have made up his mind before he even began his project.

                                      The conclusion the author draws may have relevance in the broadest sense if ALL fishing were irresponsible, and ALL people ate fish from far away because they had access to it.
                                      I don't deny that there are serious problems with overfishing in some waters, and of some species, much of it due to the demands of wealthy consumers who want fish/seafood from the oceans far from their homes. This has placed great stress on the oceans, led to poor aquaculture practices, and been damaging to the ecosystem.
                                      There are also places where poverty has led to local overfishing, but that is not the case in most of the industrialized world which closely and responsibly regulates its fisheries.

                                      There are plenty of fish in the sea. As James and I have both pointed out, it's there for the catching.
                                      A lot of the fish aren't what fancy restaurants serve and not what people want to buy in upscale fishmarkets. Consumers want "name brand" fish, sashimi grade, and high end seafood, not common good food from a local river, lake, pond, or sea shore.
                                      So sure, there are some problems with luxury fish and "entitled" consumers are to blame.

                                      The demand for ocean fish/seafood by those who live far from the ocean is a major part of the problem.
                                      Why are those who insist on the virtues of local and seasonal foods serving them with tuna, swordfish, shrimp, and crab when they live hundreds or thousands of miles from the sea? Can they eat sushi from thousands of miles away and then complain about overfishing?

                                      So I agree with you. Now that they know the problems they're causing by demanding those fish, they should stop. Time for them to eat LOCAL seafood.
                                      Are you ready to do that?

                                      1. re: MakingSense

                                        "The demand for ocean fish/seafood by those who live far from the ocean is a major part of the problem. Why are those who insist on the virtues of local and seasonal foods serving them with tuna, swordfish, shrimp, and crab when they live hundreds or thousands of miles from the sea? Can they eat sushi from thousands of miles away and then complain about overfishing?"

                                        I completely disagree. Enormous commerical trawlers are the problem. The fishing gear they use is a problem. The quantity of bycatch they pull up is an incredible problem. Not all of that fish is destined for sushi joints in Missouri. It ends up in the freezer section of your grocery store. Pollack ends up in the filet-o-fish at your McDonalds. Some of it even ends up in pet food -- which I personally think is obscene. Unstainable aquaculture practices are also a major contributor to say, the decline of wild salmon stocks. It's far more complicated than your argument above. Blaming a diner in a non-coastal city for the problem is absurd.

                                        And another extremely important point is local does not mean sustainable when it comes to fish. No one should be eating bluefin whether they live off of the coast of Cape Cod or if they live in Montana. Just because they swim off the coast of Cape Cod doesn't make it a good choice, just because it's local.

                                        Eating bottom feeders as the book recommends is sound for many reasons -- one of the biggest is that those are actually the fish that are most healthy for us. This is a multifaceted issue, but your post above is riddled with misconceptions and inaccuracies.

                                        1. re: SuperFineSugar

                                          Those "big commercial trawlers" are out there doing their dirty deeds because of the demand for fish from people who want "fish, any fish." Some of the fish they catch is plentiful and there isn't any problem. Albacore tuna, whiting, bluefish, cod, weakfish, seatrout, mackerel, pollock, and more. There are lots of fish which are A-OK on Monterey's Seafood Watch. The scraps and byproducts are used for fertilizers, oils, and pet foods - better than wasting, huh? McDonald's uses sustainably fished pollack which is not a problem. They'd catch hell if they did otherwise.

                                          There is a demand that outstrips supply from large cities and the luxury market for certain fish, and THOSE are the ones on the danger list.
                                          Of course there will be a supply problem and eventually a sustainability crisis when menus and fish markets in Miami, Chicago, and Los Angeles are featuring wild salmon. When national general circulation media, the Food Network, and nutritionists are encouraging Americans to eat salmon, salmon, salmon, even if they live in Texas or Montana, it's going to have to be farmed on a large scale to meet the demand. When price competition starts, the quality of aquaculture suffers and so does the ecosystem.
                                          And why? Because people decide to "like fish" because it's trendy and good for them.

                                          It is downright sad to see menus in major cities - even coastal cities - with almost NO local fish/seafood. The featured items are flown in from the other Coast, the South Pacific, or Europe. Why? Because diners read about it in a food magazine or the NYT?
                                          Monterey says that bluefin is endangered "worldwide," but if the MA fisheries authorities open a short season for line-caught bluefin off a limited area of Cape Cod because it temporarily plentiful there, why shouldn't you eat it in a restaurant in Boston? I wouldn't think of eating it in Kansas City though.
                                          The first question I always ask is, "What's local?" That's not contributing to the problem. Just eat local except for the species known to be plentiful.