Bestselling author of Four Fish Paul Greenberg looks to New York oysters, gulf shrimp, and Alaskan salmon to tell the surprising story of why Americans no longer eat from local waters
In 2005, the United States imported twelve billion dollars’ worth of seafood, nearly double what we had imported ten years earlier. During that same period, our seafood exports rose by a third. In American Catch, our foremost fish expert Paul Greenberg looks to 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.
As recently as 1928 the average New Yorker ate six hundred local oysters a year. Today, the only edible oysters lie outside city limits. Looking at 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. To understand the complications of our current moment, 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 salmon run left in the world. A pristine, productive fishery, Bristol Bay is now at great risk: The proposed Pebble Mine project directly endangers the sockeye salmon’s habitat. In his search to discover why this precious renewable resource isn’t better protected, Greenberg discovers a shocking truth: 70 percent of all Alaskan salmon is sent out of the country, much of it to Asia. Sockeye salmon is arguably the most nutritionally dense animal protein on the planet, yet Americans are shipping it abroad.
Despite the challenges, hope abounds. In New York, Greenberg connects with 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. In American Catch Paul Greenberg proposes there is a way to break the current destructive patterns of consumption and return the American catch back to American consumers.