Devil Fish

A Review of The Perfect Protein: Save the Oceans, Feed the World
by Emma Kelley -- February 12th, 2015

Hello All!

Here in Beaufort, we’re jumping right into Block B. For the next month, I’ll be working on an independent study to fulfill the ecology requirement for graduation. I’m working with Brian Silliman on a topic that has yet to be determined (probably something with crabs). Stay tuned for photos and tales from the salt marsh!

As I’ve mentioned in previous entries, last spring I attended the World Ocean Summit in California. While doing my research ahead of time, to determine who would be in attendance and figure out whom I might want to speak with, I realized Andy Sharpless, the CEO of Oceana, would be at the Summit. Steve Roady, my Ocean and Coastal Law and Policy professor at Duke (and the founding President of Oceana), recommended I read Sharpless’ book: The Perfect Protein.

This book first struck me for one particular reason. It was written by the President of Oceana, the largest international ocean conservation and advocacy organization in the world. Many, if not most, ocean conservation organizations preach decreased consumption of seafood, yet here was an entire book, from the largest of them all, discussing and promoting the idea that seafood could feed the 9 billion people predicted to populate Earth by 2050. I was skeptical when I turned to the first page on the flight from Raleigh/Durham to San Francisco.

The book opens with a foreword from President Bill Clinton and then dives right into a short natural history of seafood before introducing the problem: a population of 9 billion humans and the challenge of feeding all these folks. The book covers many topics beyond the scope of this entry (I could write for days), but learning about the fish we don’t eat was the most interesting to me. As predators, we tend to consume fish higher up in the food web, like cod, swordfish, tuna, etc. A huge energy input is required to make the flesh of these animals.  Imagine how many forage fish a tuna consumes before it ends up on our plates? It takes up to five pounds of small, wild fish to create just one pound of farmed salmon. What if we just went right to the smaller fish? The Perfect Protein argues that we should consume the small guys: the anchovies and the sardines. They reproduce quickly and could both provide jobs and reduce pollution. Sharpless makes a strong case for trying a sizzling sardine sandwich.

The last chapter lists Rules for Responsible Seafood Eaters. I’d like to share these rules.

  1. Follow the maxim: Eat wild seafood. Not too much of the big fish. Mostly local.

Generally, we should avoid eating large predatory fish and aim to eat wild, local seafood, with the exception of farmed shellfish…

  1. Enjoy lots of shellfish.

Eat all the farmed and wild shellfish you like, such as oysters, mussels, clams, crabs, and lobster. Do not eat shrimp – most of it is imported and farmed at a heavy cost to the environment.

  1. Stay small (eat the little fish).

A large portion of this book is dedicated to the argument that we should eat small fish. They are yummy and better in both an environmental and nutritional sense.

  1. Eat big mindfully and rarely.

Unfortunately, there just aren’t that many big fish left in the sea. Always avoid bluefin tuna (an endangered species that somehow still ends up on the menu). If you have to eat big, eat local.

  1. Go wild, not organic.

There is no such thing as organic wild fish. Stick with wild and local.

  1. You don’t have to become a gearhead.

Go for fish caught with pole, troll, hook-and-line or harpoon; but, avoid fish caught with trawls, driftnets, gill-nets, and longlines.

  1. Get your Omega 3S from a tin or a small fish (rather than from a supplement).

Why swallow a pill when you can eat a fresh, sizzling anchovy?

I would highly recommend reading The Perfect Protein. I’ve barely grazed the surface with this blog post and the details are worth reading. For someone who has not sat through multiple lectures on the tragedy of the commons, this book can serve as an accessible and interesting introduction to seafood. As a graduate student who has studied fisheries in multiple classes, it was interesting and informative in a practical sense. I’ve read about the destruction of the Atlantic cod fishery, but I’m not really sure how to change my own eating habits. The guidelines this book provides are a great way to improve my seafood-eating patterns. It was refreshing and inspirational. Rather than guilt me into eating no seafood, it redirects my appetite for fish to more sustainable, environmentally-friendly options. There are also some delicious seafood recipes at the back of the book. Next on my list to try are Sam Talbot’s Thai Coconut Mussels. Yum!

After reading the book, I was fortunate enough to sit down and have a chat with Andy Sharpless at the very end of the conference. He had some wonderful insights to all the talks we had listened to and now I have a signed copy of The Perfect Protein.


The Perfect Protein by Andy Sharpless. Photo Credit: Emma Kelley


1 Comment

  1. Bill
    Mar 2, 2015

    I think many people seem to forget about including fish in their protein sources since most people think of only chicken and beef when naming foods high in protein. One of the things I like most about fish is how they are light on the stomach while being high in protein compared to some other meets that seem somewhat heavier on the stomach. Fish also do provide the omegas that other protein sources do not so including fish in your diet is definitely essential.

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