Cod-forsaken fish sticks

Writing about fisheries, hankering for veggie fish and chips

Writing about fisheries, hankering for veggie fish and chips

Interesting story yesterday from Maine. And I’ll get to how it relates to my culinary experiment (pictured above) earlier this year.

The lobster population has been exploding in the Gulf of Maine, which is a productive, protected and generally successful fishery. A problem: A high lobster population means lower prices. Sure, that’s good news for consumers who like everything to be cheap. But it’s bad news for local fishermen charged with protecting and husbanding the fishery while simultaneously paying bills.

The twist: This fishery dilemma dates to an earlier one, the overfishing of cod in New England. Cod eat everything off the ocean floor. Predation of lobster by cod was, according to scientists, an ecological check-and-balance.

What caused overfishing of cod? Among other phenomena, the fish stick. Yes, I’m suggesting that fish sticks constitute a phenomenon. So powerful was the mass-consumptive call for frozen, reheated, generic, white fish that the irrepressibly abundant cod are all but gone from the great George’s Bank. (Climate change may also have something to do with it.)

From Mark Kurlansky’s Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, A 1950s advertisement from the Glouchester seafood company Gorton’s claimed that fish sticks were the

“latest, greatest achievement of the seafood industry of today… Thanks to fish sticks, the average American homemaker no longer considers serving fish a drudgery. Instead she regards it as a pleasure, just as her family have come to consider fish one of their favorite foods. Easy to prepare, thrifty to serve and delicious to eat, fish sticks, it can be truthfully said, have greatly increased the demand for fish, while revolutionizing the fishing industry.”

And this is how we get the picture above, my tofu-batter-vinegar-shallow-fry earlier this year. The social construct of the fish stick is powerful, indeed.

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Small fishing is beautiful

Small is beautiful

Above: A Panamanian boat man.

I’m in the final throes of my thesis writing; the topic: Explaining poverty in Indian fisheries.

However, for the last week and a half I’ve been writing the history and evolution of fisheries globally, which has me constantly thinking about the stratification of fisheries and the multiverse of fisheries development paths.

In case anyone is interested, a good bit of straightforward reading on fisheries — other than my thesis, of course — is DeSombre and Barkin’s Fish. More encyclopedic but also helpful is the stupidly expensive Handbook of Fish Biology and Fisheries Vol 2.: Fisheries, edited by Paul J.B. Hart and John D. Reynolds.

Note: There are plenty of problems with small- and intermediate-scale fisheries, too. But when compared to fully industrialized fishing and considering the plight of the increasingly depleted ocean, it’s difficult not to argue for the small-is-beautiful model.

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Big, bad barracuda

Swarming at Dixon's Pinnacle


The last of my divemaster training series from the Andaman Islands. It’s about time, as I finished DM more than a year ago. *sniff*

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Heads up, barracudas

Hundreds of them riding the current


Great barracuda, hovering above Dixon’s pinnacle…

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Teaming with and fighting for life

Soft coral at Dixon's Pinnacle

Soft coral at Dixon’s Pinnacle, though protected by its depth and temperature, remains under serious threat like much of the world’s coral as seas warm and acidify. This is a picture of what mankind may very well be pushing out of existence.

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Healthy coral in the deep blue

Undisturbed...

I spent several days diving recently off Panama’s Isla Colon, where the water is cloudy with sediment, corals are sometimes covered in sand, mud and dirt and large schools of fish are hard to come by. This is likely due, at least in part, to the runoff from all the plantation activity in the surrounding country.

I can’t help but contrast that with photo, from Dixon’s Pinnacle in the Andamans, of remote, relatively untouched coral that is clean, free of disease, blue shifting from the depth and unbleached.

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Ohhhh… barracudaaaa

A large swarm of teeth

Majestic if also a bit unnerving in a school. I’ve seen the cloud of exploded fish after a hunting great barracuda went in for the kill. They could easily dispatch me if they were so inclined.

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Lionfish out for a swim

Lionfish

These guys tend to stick close to reef and shelter during the day, frequently not moving at all and relying on their camouflage and poisonous barbs to defend them.

This one, was out above the reef almost in open ocean for a cruise at Johnny’s Gorge.

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Lionfish have weird eyebrows…

Am I right?

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Cruising Johnny’s Gorge

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