Fish saga on PBS

Paul Greenberg looks out at an anchoveta fleet in Peru. The fish is mostly ground up for use as feed on animal and fish farms.
Courtesy of FRONTLINE

Man spent a year eating no meat but fish with all its Omega 3 fatty acids and by the end he looked and felt great
But the medicine men told him tests showed he had no higher levels of OM3 than before. But much higher levels of mercury.
So he didn’t know what to think.
He made a documentary about saving wild salmon etc though, and his audience on PBS last night (Apr 25 Tues 2017) knew what to do.
Eat fish. Why do you think the Japanese are is such good shape?
He however thought he deserved a hamburger and ate that.
Sponsors came back, all was forgiven.

“Q&A: Why Paul Greenberg Spent a Year of His Life Eating Fish

APRIL 25, 2017 / by JASON M. BRESLOW
Imagine eating fish, every day, for a year. What would that mean for your health?

It’s a question that journalist Paul Greenberg set out to investigate in the new FRONTLINE documentary, The Fish on My Plate.

Greenberg, the best-selling author of American Catch and Four Fish, says this unique one-man study was motivated by a desire to understand which fish are “good for me and good for the planet.”

A lifelong fisherman, Greenberg began casting lines with his father when he was just five years old. From a young age, he says, he began to understand that overfishing carried far-reaching environmental implications.

Today, more than four decades later, global fish consumption is at an all-time high, with growing demand increasingly depleting natural fisheries. As Greenberg notes, “We’re producing about 80 to 90 million metric tons of wild seafood every year from the ocean … that is equivalent to the human weight of China.” Fish farming — or aquaculture — is helping to fill the void, yet critics say the practice creates more problems than it solves.

In “The Fish on My Plate,” author and fisherman Paul Greenberg sets out to answer the question “what fish should I eat that’s good for me and good for the planet?” As part of his quest to investigate the health of the ocean — and his own — Greenberg spent a year eating seafood at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Courtesy of FRONTLINE

Frontline: Ahead of the April 24 premiere of The Fish on My Plate, we spoke with Greenberg about lessons learned from his year of eating fish, why he says “we’re going to have to change the kinds of seafood that we eat,” and why he calls the omega-3s found in fish oil the “Forrest Gump” of molecules. Here’s what he had to say.

Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

One whole year of eating seafood for breakfast, lunch and dinner. That’s a lot of fish. What motivated you to take this experiment on?

I’ve been writing about fish and seafood for over 10 years now, and you can’t get away from the fact that fish is always held up as “the healthy food.” I also heard epidemiological evidence [showing that] fish eating societies seem to have lower rates of the so-called Western diseases — lower rates of heart disease, there’s some evidence of higher cognition among certain populations, better test scores, that sort of thing. So I just thought, what if I were to really take on the diet of somebody — almost like a Pacific islander — and really make fish the central part of my diet? I wanted to see if I would register some sort of effect, either in my cardiac health or in my mental health.

I’m sure you must get asked you all the time, “What type of fish should I be eating?” If there’s one thing I learned from The Fish on My Plate, that’s not so simple to answer. But are there some general things you suggest people consider when they’re ordering seafood at a restaurant or buying at the supermarket?

I think first of all, the number-one question is: Where did the fish come from? And does the person who is selling your fish have a good handle on that? I on occasion torture waiters and ask them to identify where their fish is from, and if they have to go back to the kitchen more than once, then I know that there’s a serious amount of confusion. So traceability is really important. Greenpeace actually puts out an annual report called CATO. It stands for “Carting Away the Oceans,” and whatever you may think of Greenpeace, at least they took some time to evaluate supermarkets on their buying and purchasing policies. In that report, paramount to really determining what was or was not sustainable, was whether or not a supermarket had a traceability program in place.

Beyond that, there’s certain go-to fish that I usually go to because I know that they are high in omega-3s and they fall within my budget. Quite often, I will buy Alaskan wild sockeye salmon. People always say, “Oh salmon, it’s so expensive.” The place where you get into trouble with wild salmon is when you start going to the fresh fish counter, where you’ll start seeing $15, $20, $25 a pound. But in fact, outside of wild salmon season from June to August, fish you’re going to see on the counter has usually been defrosted. It makes much more sense to go to the frozen food bin and get those nice vacuumed-packed Alaska sockeye salmon that usually come in around $10 a pound. It’s boneless, it’s portioned out, and because it’s been frozen the moment the fish comes out of the water, you can bet that it’s going to have a higher quality than the fish that’s been defrosted and is laying out at the fresh seafood counter.

In terms of the health benefits of a diet rich in omega-3s, what do we know about where the science is? You’re working on a new book about this, The Omega Principle. What have you learned so far?

What I’ve found is that the randomized control trials, which are the gold standard in medical research, those kind of gold-standard trials have often found inconclusive results.

On the other hand, observational studies, which tend to include many more subjects over much longer periods of time, do show more significant effects. For example, there was a study published in the journal Nature, I think it was in 2016, that showed a 6 percent reduction in risk of cardiac death. Now, it’s a little bit comparing apples and oranges with randomized control trials and observational studies, but I do think that the omega-3 people do at least have a leg to stand on in saying that there is evidence outside of randomized control trials that seems to suggest an association with cardiac benefit.

Then there’s the whole issue of mental health. This is still an emerging field. The human brain is 25 percent DHA omega-3 fatty acid. It’s part of the brain. So, the real question becomes, if it’s part of us, if we have more of it, [is that] better? And I think that’s where people are struggling to show effect.

The thing I’ve decided is that omega-3 is the “Forrest Gump” molecule, in that it shows up at key moments in epidemiological history and evolutionary history. You’re not quite sure what it’s doing there, but it’s there. So, I’m trying to write this book from that perspective.

Paul Greenberg (left) with his father, Harvey, after a fishing trip in 1984 on Martha’s Vineyard. (Courtesy of Paul Greenberg)
Your research took you all around the world, from Peru, to Norway, to Alaska and even the waters of the Long Island Sound where you first learned to fish. What did you learn about our overfishing problem, and what does the future look like for aquaculture, which is controversial in its own right.

We have reached a point where we have topped out what the ocean can produce, at least in its present compromised state. Right now, we’re producing about 80 to 90 million metric tons of wild seafood every year from the ocean, and that is equivalent to the human weight of China taken out of the ocean each and every year.

The estimates are that if we were to rebuild every overfished fish stock out there, we might get another 10 to 15 million metric tons. When you look at the graph of protein consumption in the world, you can see that that’s not going to cut it, especially if fish is going to be a major part of our diets. [It’s] just plain and simple math — you have to have aquaculture.

I do think aquaculture should exist, but I think in the early days of aquaculture we had a model that I would call “delete and replace.” If you look at salmon, for example, in the Atlantic, we lost huge amounts of Atlantic salmon populations by damming the rivers where they spawned, but also overfishing them. And then no sooner did those numbers decline that they were replaced by farmed salmon in the same bays and fjords where wild salmon would have migrated to.

So, we don’t want any more delete and replace. We need to figure out a way to have aquaculture be a net source of marine protein, and we’re on the edge right now. In the film, we go to Peru, we look at the Peruvian anchoveta as the largest fishery in the world, but 99 percent of it is used as animal feed. So, to me, that’s a little bit of an outdated model. And since there are increasing models for making feed that doesn’t involve the use of wild fish, I think that we’re on the verge of having a truly net-gaining form of aquaculture available to us.

When you speak to policy experts, what are the solutions they point to for reversing — or at least minimizing — the damage from overfishing in the meantime?

The solution that has worked in many cases is limited entry fisheries. In other words, you try to define how many catchable tons of fish there are out there in a given species with a given stock in a given area. And then, in advance of the fishing season, to divide up that “surplus” — the fish you can harvest and still expect to have the same amount of fish the following year — amongst a pre-recognized number of fishermen, and then fishermen must stop fishing when they’ve caught their individual quota. I should note, this is an extremely controversial thing within fishing communities.

In other fisheries, they have what’s called “observer coverage” — people actually on the vessels who are not fishermen, who are recording the catch and where there’s just a general culture of compliance. That’s another thing which is hard to achieve. Healthy abundant fisheries tend to breed cultures of compliance, whereas overfished, mistreated fisheries, everyone’s trying to eke out their share and are more prone to bad behavior.

The Maine lobster fishery is an example of an excellent fishery. It’s doing very well, it’s very productive. In the Maine fishery, spawning females must always be returned to the water if they end up in your trap. Lobsters above a certain size, females above a certain size, must always be returned. So, if you could do that with fin fish, you could probably solve the overfishing problem, because you’d always be putting back the big females.

There’s a tongue-in-cheek fisheries term, “a BOFFF,” which stands for big old fat female fish. The gold standard for fisheries is to keep the BOFFF in the water. Big old fat female fish have been shown to have more eggs and higher quality eggs, and if you can preserve the spawning females, you can actually do a lot to protect the fishery. But it’s hard to do that if you’re dragging a trawl net through Georgia’s banks. I mean, how do you pick out the big old fat female fish and put them aside? There are some places on the West Coast where they’re doing trap fisheries, where you literally trap things like sable fish. You could release the big fat female fish in a fishery like that, but that’s a whole other set of gear. Fisherman have already invested so much in their gear that to change it is probably difficulty.

“We have reached a point where we have topped out what the ocean can produce, at least in its present compromised state.”
Aside from some of these policy considerations, are there broader questions we should be asking as a society about our relationship to the ocean and whether we can catch seafood in a more responsible way?

Yes, but I actually think the answer lies beyond the question of seafood only. We tend to look at the seafood system as a discrete system that’s somehow separate from the larger food system. But I would argue that if you look at all of our food systems, aquaculture is much more carbon efficient, water efficient, fuel efficient, than almost any land animal agriculture or animal husbandry. So, right there, if we were to step back and say “Huh, let’s not just try to get our fishing under control and our aquaculture under control, let’s try to get our land food production under control.” Because in the end, if you’re producing a lot of cows and pigs and chickens, that requires a lot of corn, which in turn requires a lot of nitrogen fertilizer, which goes into our water ways, which in turn degrades our fisheries.

As far as getting more seafood onto our plate and to make it more a part of our diet, we’re going to have to change the kinds of seafood that we eat on a regular basis. The absolute no-brainer when it comes to seafood is bivalves — clams, mussels, oysters, as well as sea vegetables such as kelp and so forth. Those creatures require no inputs in terms of fertilizer. They actually clean the water while they grow and they’re very low carbon to harvest — particularly mussels — but not everyone loves them. Something’s got to give.

The other thing is that we need to figure out a national aquaculture policy for the country. We are right now 15th in terms of total tons of aquaculture produced. Meanwhile, we have the second largest seafood footprint in the world. So, we’re not doing our share. A lot of that is that we just don’t seem to be able to resolve our NIMBY issues. Nobody wants to have a mussel farm or a fish farm in their view shed. So, we need to figure that out and we need to figure it out in a way that’s fair to fish consumers but also fair to landowners.

How often are you eating seafood now?

I definitely backed off. I actually liked having seafood in my diet, and I have to say, I felt better eating fish. There’s this funny little quirk of when you decide to eat fish all the time, particularly when you go out to dinner, when you order the fish on the menu, the fish always comes with healthier stuff. Like if you order steak, it comes with French fries, but if you order salmon, it comes with broccoli.

I haven’t been eating as much fish now. I did end up with pretty high mercury levels and that did spook me. There’s a little bit of mercury in most seafood, and if you’re eating it as often as I was eating it, it’s going to add up. I didn’t notice any symptoms, but it spooked me. I’m kind of in a reset mode right now, where I’d like to have seafood be a major part of my diet for all the reasons I said — I think it’s an environmentally sound way of getting protein if you do it in the right way — but I would like to figure out what’s the upper level that I can push, and with which seafood, so that I can achieve a mercury level that is acceptable to me.

What surprised you the most in making this film?

My attitudinal change about seafood. Previously, you go into the super market and you’re like, “Huh what’s for dinner tonight? Is it going to be the red steak or the white chicken?” But when you cut all of that away, when the meat department is no longer a purview, you go to the seafood counter or to the frozen section, and you realize there’s actually quite a large selection and that you can have variety in your life. If you don’t just think about it as fish, but as, “Oh, I could have mussels, I could have salmon, I could have tilapia, I could have haddock,” those flavors tend to annunciate themselves once you’ve fine-tuned yourself. When you really engage in a big way, you develop a better appreciation of the subtleties of seafood.”

“Fish saga on PBS

Man spent a year eating no meat but fish with all its Omega 3 fatty acids and by the end he looked and felt great

But the medicine men told him tests showed he had no higher levels of OM3 than before, but much more mercury.

So he didn’t know what to think.

He made a documentary about saving wild salmon etc though, and his audience on PBS last night knew what to do.

Eat fish. Why do you think the Japanese are is such good shape?

He however thought he deserved a hamburger and ate that.

Sponsors came back, all was forgiven.

The Fish on My Plate

What Fish Is Good For Me And The Planet? New Documentary Explores

April 24, 20174:52 PM ET

In “The Fish on My Plate,” author and fisherman Paul Greenberg sets out to answer the question “what fish should I eat that’s good for me and good for the planet?” As part of his quest to investigate the health of the ocean — and his own — Greenberg spent a year eating seafood at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Courtesy of FRONTLINE
Facts about the virtues of eating fish can be slippery. On the one hand, fish provide protein and omega-3 fatty acids, the substance in fish oil supplements, which is thought to boost cognitive health. Plus, unlike cows, fish don’t belch vast amounts of the greenhouse gas methane into the air. So, fish should be good for your health and the environment. But the science of omega-3 benefits is far from settled, and as fish farming grows to keep up with global demand, the industry is raising new questions about environmental sustainability.

New York Times bestselling author and avid fisherman Paul Greenberg wanted to learn more about how eating fish can change human health and the world’s marine environments. He ate fish every day for a year to see how it would affect his health and traveled around the world to learn more about the challenges of fish farming. His experience is captured in a FRONTLINE documentary called The Fish on My Plate airing Tuesday. (You can also watch it online.)

We watched the film and talked with Greenberg about what he learned while making this documentary. The conversation is edited for clarity and concision.

As a fisherman who enjoys catching food from the wild, do you think we need fish farming?

If everyone’s going to be a vegan, no, we don’t need fish farming. If we want to have animal protein in our lives, then yes, I think we do need it. People often compare wild fish to farmed fish, but what we should really be doing is comparing fish to other forms of protein. Because things like beef really are a tremendous burden on the planet in terms of resources, we’re never going to get to the place where everybody on the planet can eat beef. But I do think we’ll get to a place where everybody can eat mussels.

‘The Great Fish Swap’: How America Is Downgrading Its Seafood Supply
‘The Great Fish Swap’: How America Is Downgrading Its Seafood Supply
Only eating wild fish doesn’t work with the equation right now. We’re catching 80-90 million metric tons of wild fish per year, and that’s not going to meet the protein needs of the world, plus it’s putting a lot of pressure on fish populations. I’d rather see that need met through aquaculture [fish farming] than through more beef, pigs or chickens.

What makes a fish a good candidate for aquaculture?

Some criteria are a general adaptability to confinement, a resistance to disease, the ability to produce a lot of offspring, and fast growth. And you see fish with these traits rising to the top of fish farming. Take tilapia. It grows very fast, from an egg to an adult in nine months, whereas a salmon can take 2-3 years.

That said, people like some fish more than others. So there are efforts in aquaculture to tame certain fish [like salmon] because there’s a market for it, not because they’re the best suited for farming.

The film shows that fish farming is far from perfect. What are the biggest challenges facing fish farming?

It’s what the farmed fish eat and where they live.

We tend to prefer carnivorous fish like salmon, and they like to eat other fish. So roughly 20 million metric tons per year — a quarter to a fifth of the global catch — goes into catching fish like anchovies that are ground up and fed to other fish. Salmon farming has become more efficient over the years through selective breeding and improved farming techniques. It used to take six pounds of wild fish to produce one pound of farmed salmon; now it takes less than two pounds of wild fish. But at the same time, the amount of farmed salmon that we’re growing is increasing, so the pressure on these small wild fish continues.

This problem is being worked out in techniques using other food sources, like fishery byproducts that would have been thrown out anyway, algae, or soldier flies, for example, to make fish feed.

What’s the problem with where fish farms are located?

This is a thornier issue. Any time you aggregate large amounts of livestock in an area, you’re going to attract disease. In the case of salmon, the most famous disease is a parasite called a sea louse. When wild salmon swim past farms, the sea lice can infect them. If a juvenile salmon gets more than 10 sea lice, it will die.

The other issue is that if you have a lot of animals poop in one place, you can have nitrate overload, and cause algal blooms in the marine environment. So there are lots of people who would like to see fish farms taken out of the ocean entirely and moved to a tank.

The documentary goes through a lot of potential solutions. What do you think the most promising ones are?

The no-brainer is that we should eat more kelp and mussels, because they just filter water and get their nutrients without being fed. But of course not everybody likes mussels or kelp.

Farmed fish can be acceptable, if we’re getting more protein out of it than we’re losing to disease and fish feed. I’m not sure if anyone has run the numbers. The issue is that if consumers aren’t aware of all of the options for farmed fish out there, they’ll just go with what’s cheapest. I did come across a farm in Norway where they were stocking fish less densely. To feed the fish, they were using offcuts of other fisheries, instead of directly harvested wild fish. And they were trying to address the sea lice problem with a fish called a lumpsucker that eats the lice [instead of using medicine to kill them, which can kill some other forms of sea life like shrimp as well].

Lumpsuckers are so cute!

They are cute. There’s an extended scene that got cut from the documentary where I kept trying to get a lumpsucker — [which has adhesive discs on its chest] — to stick to my forehead. I couldn’t get it to.

You already knew a lot about fish when you started making this documentary. Is there anything you learned that surprised you?

One thing I learned is that about a third of wild salmon in Alaska start their lives in a hatchery. They’re hatched [by private nonprofits and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game] to boost the productivity of rivers. It’s an issue that comes up because the salmon farming community competes with Alaskan fishers for consumers. When farmers get a lot of heat from the Alaskan wild fishing community, the farming community will say, “Hey, you’re just ranching salmon. You’re doing aquaculture, but you’re not calling it aquaculture.”

I knew a little bit about the hatcheries, but I’d never heard the Alaskan fisher’s side of things. The fishers said that often these salmon are being introduced into inlands that never had salmon to begin with, so these salmon aren’t competing with wild-born salmon, and really are supplementing the population.

What is better for the environment – farmed or wild salmon? The new Frontline documentary, The Fish On My Plate, tries to answer that question in this clip.
Courtesy Paul Greenberg YouTube
Now let’s switch to the more personal part of the documentary. You ditched land meat and ate fish every day for a year to see how the diet would affect your health. Specifically, you were interested in getting a higher level of omega-3s. What are omega-3s?

Omega-3 is a fatty acid, a long hydrocarbon chain with a double bond at the third spot from the end, which seems to make it particularly bendy and adaptable to serving multiple purposes in the cell. It is the Forrest Gump of molecules.

How so?

Whenever an important health issue comes up, so does omega-3. But we’re never quite sure what it does. When people first started talking about it in the 70s, everyone got very excited because a study found a correlation between omega 3-s and low levels of heart disease. Since then, we’ve gotten statins, we’ve gotten angioplasty — all these ways of dealing with heart disease. So we’re not as focused on how, if at all, omega-3s affect heart health anymore.

What we worry about now is dementia. So now everyone’s obsessed with omega-3’s neurological effects. And of course we’re obsessed with our children and how smart they are, so we want them getting enough omega-3s. [Click here for a study The Salt covered about the effect of omega-3s on brain functioning.]

What is it like to eat fish for a whole year? Did you get sick of it?

I got sick of it at the beginning, but then I broke through. Two things happened: First, once the meat section of the supermarket became a no-fly zone, instead of looking at fish as one of four options — chicken, beef, pork, or fish — I started to see fish as containing many options within its self-contained world. There was one that might be nice broiled, or another that might be nice with a sage sauce, and another that might be brought out by rosemary. It led me to a much more diverse approach to cooking fish.

The other thing that happened with eating fish all the time is that I lost weight. Now, there’s a confounding factor: When you go to a restaurant, the fish always comes with the healthy stuff. If you order the steak, it comes with fries, but if you order the salmon, you get some nice steamed broccoli. So I don’t necessarily contribute the weight loss to the fish but to leading me to healthier patterns of eating.

We’ll let people watch the documentary to see how your health is affected by eating fish for a year. Given what you learned while making the film, what’s your approach to eating fish going forward?

So, people will see in the film that I get some disturbing results regarding my mercury levels at the end of a year. [Large amounts of mercury released from coal-powered plants ends up in the oceans and eventually, in marine organisms, including fish.]

I’m not a child or a woman of childbearing age, so I can be a little cavalier with my mercury levels. But I’ve backed away from eating fish every day. I’ve probably backed down to three or four times per week, which is still double what the average American eats. And I try to eat more mussels.

Any fish recipe recommendations?

I had a really intense embrace of the anchovy, particularly the Peruvian anchoveta, 90 percent of which is ground up and fed to pigs, chickens and farmed fish. But it’s a really good source of protein and omega-3s.

When we went to Peru for the film, we went to a cannery in the south. They were so excited someone wanted to eat the fish as opposed to grind them up, that they gave me a 10-lb container of anchovies. I found anchovies are good in an omelet. And a piece of sourdough with free-range butter and anchovies: delicious.

Natalie Jacewicz is a science writer living in New York City.”

The Fish on My Plate

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