Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Immersed in the wild ocean

Here's an excerpt from a great article on open water swimming. I can relate, since I'm a bit of a wild water swimmer too.

Immersed in the Wild
by Edwin Dobb
Like any deeply enjoyable activity, distance swimming readily becomes addicting. The high is real. But swimming entails another kind of attraction as well, one whose locus is the medium itself. Since boyhood, I've been drawn to water, especially open water -- rivers, lakes, seas, and in a visceral way. Mere contemplation won't do. The first time I saw the Pacific Ocean, on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, I was seized by a desire to taste it, to feel it on my skin, to surrender to it. Exultation is the going, as Emily Dickinson wrote, Of an inland soul to sea. Though the poem refers to sailors, I know well the going it celebrates. I also know well the hunger for going that haunts some land-born souls.
Immersion doesn't entirely satisfy this hunger, which then moves outward, fixing on the horizon, an undulating, ever-receding border between endless sea and endless sky. Past the houses, past the headlands, Into deep eternity! Playing it safe during my birthday escapade, I looked -- rather than swam -- across the cove, toward the opening that connects it to the bay as a whole, where sailboats and ferries, tugs and container ships were visible. After I've increased my stamina and grown accustomed to longer stays, I'll trace successive mile-long circuits, swimming along the interior perimeter. I especially enjoy passing through the opening into the zone where the smaller chop inside the cove mixes with the larger, more energetic chop outside. There I pause and tread water for a spell. Sometimes I tremble slightly, not in response to the cold but in recognition of the wildness of the place, its power, immensity, and indifference to my interests or well-being, which is exhilarating, surprisingly enough, but also scary. I gaze at the Bay Bridge; Treasure, Alcatraz and Angel islands; the Golden Gate Bridge and, beyond that, the Marin Headlands. A crazy yet almost irresistible urge takes hold, the same urge that arises whenever I'm in the ocean, with nothing but water in front of me -- to swim farther out, and farther still....
Click the link at the top for much more, including a great set of links at the end on open water swimming.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Frustrated salmon

It's fall, time for salmon to run upstream and spawn. And every year you can find these kind of scenes of frustrated salmon. Can we help these fish?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Have a snack, save a species

Yvon Chouinard has an idea, and he's not a person that should be ignored when he has an idea. I won't go into his record here, suffice it to say it's good.

Now he's onto seafood, introduced by his "Have a snack, save a species" essay. Can salmon jerky revolutionize seafood? If anyone else said so, I'd be skeptical, but I think Patagonia Provisions salmon jerky has a chance because of the person behind the product.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

New (old) sustainable aquaculture

Fantastic new aquaculture promises sustainable seafood. Great idea, good story, but it's not exactly new.

China leads the world in farming seaweed, and it's at least hundreds of years old if not thousands. This piece in The Atlantic gives us some good news, but it seems to miss the Chinese roots of this "new" wave in sustainable aquaculture.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Sustainable pangasius farming in Vietnam

During a recent trip to Vietnam I had the pleasure of meeting again Mr. Duong Ngoc Minh, President of Hùng Vương Corporation, and the largest pangasius farmer in Vietnam.

Mr. Minh signed an agreement with WWF to advance one of his pangasius farms to sustainability certification by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council, and to use his farm as a demonstration to other pangasius farmers. Mr Minh is in the light blue shirt with some of his staff and the WWF team.

We toured one of his farms and processing plants, the operations are big, efficient, and very impressive. Here's feeding time on the farm (photo right).

Our hosts then treated us to a wonderful Vietnamese seafood feast at the Thuong Nyen restaurant in My Tho in the Mekong Delta region. Including some wonderful squid, shark, and much more, all cooked in a steaming pot right on the table. Vietnam is a great country to visit, I know I'll be back.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Live fish markets, sustainability, and almost-local seafood

What is gained by staring a fish in the eye before eating it? China's live fish markets are a great place to ask this question.

My answer? Shopping this way brings the fish closer, so that imported food becomes "almost local." It's a good thing.

Walking through Qingdao's restaurant district I found row after row of live fish in tanks, ready for diners to order and eat. Not only fish, of course, there were also lots of sea cucumbers, clams, lobsters, etc. Some from nearby, no doubt, but many brought from some distance. Like the freshwater-farmed carp not widely grown in the area near this seaside city.

The tanks are small, and there's no way to see these animals as living peacefully in a native pond. But there is a definite sense of of visiting with a fish in the water when shopping for dinner. There's something about a live animal that transcends the particulars of the time and place of contact.

Live fish markets tunnel through distance and unknown supply chains and make fish seem local even if they come from far away.

A live fish market isn't the only way to do this, traceable and transparent supply chains have some of the same benefit. Buy a red snapper from the Gulf of Mexico's Gulf Wild program, and you can bring the fish closer with a few clicks. Enter the fish tag number on the Gulf Wild website and you'll look eye-to-eye with the fisherman who caught it and see a spot on the map where the fish was caught. This is another good approch for making your Mississippi red snapper an "almost local" fish in Idaho. Why not? It's better fish for the land-locked.

And before you think this only happens in China or Chinatown, here's Joe Tess Live Fish Market in Omaha, Nebraska, proudly featuring carp since the 1930's, some in live tanks, and serving up a ton of carp a week. "We're going fishin' cause we're going to Joe Tess."

Watch the video below, and see middle Americans talk about how Joe Tess brings fish closer to customers, giving them fish that "tastes like it's just out of the water."

Monday, November 21, 2011

Carp dinner in China, sustainable and good

What could be more sustainable than a dinner of plant-eating farmed carp? But is it a GOOD dinner for a westerner? Time to find out.

During my recent trip to China I was interested to find a real Chinese carp dinner. I grew up fishing, and my father and everyone else taught me to throw carp back in the water. "You can't eat those things" I remember being told.

But the Chinese know better, they've farmed carp for thousands of years. In fact, carp farming in China is the biggest farmed fish industry in the world. Most of the carp never make it out of China, and they almost never find their way to the western world.

My host in Qingdao, Songlin Wang, took me walking through the
town restaurant district and we shopped the live fish tanks until we found a place we wanted to stop.

All of the restaurants had a variety of live fish in tanks, ready for diners to call one out to become dinner. We chose the grass carp, the staff reached into the tank with a net (photo, top right), and our dinner came out of the tank flopping and headed for the kitchen.

We asked for a spicy preparation and the cooked carp soon arrived in a steaming pot, head, tail, spinal column and a few more interesting bits (photo, left). The dish had Sichuan pepper which was spicy and had a slight, temporary numbing effect on the lips.

The carp was great. It was tender, with a mild flavor that complemented the sauce nicely. The only challenge was some small bones that had to be pulled out of many of the pieces. The bones didn't bother me, but might easily annoy a more squeamish eater. Of course, the carp's head staring at us from the pot would probably be a bigger challenge.

One nice feature of this dinner, you can be sure that you know what you're getting in this type of seafood restaurant, there is no chance for fish fraud. Unlike the widespread problem in the US of restaurants feeding customers fake substitutes for expensive and desirable fish, here you can see that you're getting what you ordered.

The dinner was a great success, I'm a carp fan now, ready to promote these sustainable fish.

But wait, they're not certified!? It's true that there may be some farming practices of concern, waste or nutrients in the effluent water. But these plant-eating fish can be grown without added feed, so they're very close to sustainability without much extra effort.

Growing millions of tons of carp is a sustainability success story for China, it's a very good thing that China is NOT growing this much farmed salmon.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thrift and sustainability in China

Here's an interesting greenspace, crops growing on the roof of the main parking garage at Beijing Airport. Thrifty use of space.