With a book title like “Four Fish” for a book about, well, four different kinds of fish you wont win any marketing creativity prize. But, its rare that I let a book title (or cover) scare me away from reading something. On a recommendation from a librarian I loaned the book and she was absolutely right: It was worth the read! 🐟
The relationship between fish and humans has been a strange one throughout history and the ongoing evolution of fish-farming on the planet makes it even stranger. On both large and small scales, fish is increasingly becoming detail-engineered into a designer product. When industrialization and over fishing empties the rivers and sea of food, man invents new ways to produce it.
Four Fish is at its core a coverage of this phenomenon across the 4 most “produced fishes”: Salmon, Tuna, Bass and Cod. The author, Paul Greenberg, has plenty of first-hand experience on the subject and has met and/or talked with many of the minds behind the industry. Many of the interesting characters that Mr. Greenberg brings to life through text – From Yupik indians to Norwegian salmon breeders – gets their stories told in a warm matter, each being the leading role in their specific chapter of the book.
Paul Greenberg gives a fair amount of space in his book to himself as well, turning himself into the red thread of the book. The constant that shares his travels (and thoughts) with you. The author and reader connection is strong and intimate:
“During my childhood I was often reminded how wealthy my neighbors and schoolmates were and how insecurely my family lived by comparison. The sea meanwhile, was the great lever. No fisherman, no matter how rich, had any more right than I did to a huge expanse of territory and resources” – Paul Greenberg
Paul gives an excellent overview of the political character of whats going on, without bogging into too much details (but still leaving enough seeds to pick up for your own research outside the books world). The few places he does a deeper dive, its a welcoming element that explains something curious. The brightest example of this is the backstory of the Shetlands and how this reflects back to modern times (British Petrolium having to re-invest profits into the local community or the Shetlanders wouldn’t allow operations).
The Shetlanders story is in a stark contrast to the Alaskan Yupik peoples, which is largely at the mercy of whats going down to the south of them since they rely on fishes swimming upstream towards them for survival.
“What is important is that those pink slabs return each year, uninterrupted, in large enough numbers to fill the Yupik smokehouses and drying racks so that folks can make it through the winter or sell enough to educate their children and improve a community that suffers one of the highest suicide rates in the United States.” – Paul Greenberg
This is not a book for everyone. If you would like to hear the story of a Greek Sea Bass-breeder and how he built up an industry from scratch – With all that entails in the form of tests, failures and successes – this might be the one book to recommend you. If you are interested in knowing how Chile got to become the worlds second largest salmon producer, look no further than Four Fish. If you aren’t interested in knowing how the fish got to your restaurant plate, inside that take-away sushi or to your shopping mall, you can safely skip this book.
It is without a doubt a book for nerds. Fish nerds. Curious fish nerds that like to get a little bit of insight in how things are connected behind the scenes. If you self-identify as one of those, grab a copy of this book!