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The Fish Market: Inside the Big-Money Battle for the Ocean and Your Dinner Plate

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Gulf Wild — the first seafood brand in America to trace each fish from the sea to the table — emerged after grouper, the star of fried fish sandwiches, fell off menus due to overfishing. The brand was born when the government privatized the rights to fish to fix the problem. Through traceability, Gulf Wild has met burgeoning consumer demand for domestic, sustainable seafoo Gulf Wild — the first seafood brand in America to trace each fish from the sea to the table — emerged after grouper, the star of fried fish sandwiches, fell off menus due to overfishing. The brand was born when the government privatized the rights to fish to fix the problem. Through traceability, Gulf Wild has met burgeoning consumer demand for domestic, sustainable seafood, selling in boutique grocers and catapulting grouper from the hamburger bun to the white tablecloth. But the property rights that saved grouper also shifted control of the fish from public to private, forever changing the relationship between wild seafood and the people that eat it. Aboard fishing vessels from Alaska to Maine, inside restaurants of top chefs, and from the halls of Congress, in The Fish Market, journalist Lee van der Voo tells the story of the people and places left behind in this era of ocean privatization—a trend that now controls more than half of American seafood. Following seafood money from U.S. docks to Wall Street, she explains the methods that investors, equity firms, and seafood landlords have used to capture the upside of the sustainable seafood movement, and why many people believe in them. She also goes behind the scenes of the Slow Fish movement—among holdouts against privatization of the sea— to show why they argue consumers don’t have to buy sustainability from Wall Street, or choose between the environment and their fisherman.


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Gulf Wild — the first seafood brand in America to trace each fish from the sea to the table — emerged after grouper, the star of fried fish sandwiches, fell off menus due to overfishing. The brand was born when the government privatized the rights to fish to fix the problem. Through traceability, Gulf Wild has met burgeoning consumer demand for domestic, sustainable seafoo Gulf Wild — the first seafood brand in America to trace each fish from the sea to the table — emerged after grouper, the star of fried fish sandwiches, fell off menus due to overfishing. The brand was born when the government privatized the rights to fish to fix the problem. Through traceability, Gulf Wild has met burgeoning consumer demand for domestic, sustainable seafood, selling in boutique grocers and catapulting grouper from the hamburger bun to the white tablecloth. But the property rights that saved grouper also shifted control of the fish from public to private, forever changing the relationship between wild seafood and the people that eat it. Aboard fishing vessels from Alaska to Maine, inside restaurants of top chefs, and from the halls of Congress, in The Fish Market, journalist Lee van der Voo tells the story of the people and places left behind in this era of ocean privatization—a trend that now controls more than half of American seafood. Following seafood money from U.S. docks to Wall Street, she explains the methods that investors, equity firms, and seafood landlords have used to capture the upside of the sustainable seafood movement, and why many people believe in them. She also goes behind the scenes of the Slow Fish movement—among holdouts against privatization of the sea— to show why they argue consumers don’t have to buy sustainability from Wall Street, or choose between the environment and their fisherman.

30 review for The Fish Market: Inside the Big-Money Battle for the Ocean and Your Dinner Plate

  1. 4 out of 5

    Annie

    Don’t even have the words for how impressed I was by this book. I went into it with only the vaguest idea of what it would be about. Van der Voo does a phenomenal job of explaining this multi-layered and multi-perspective-driven economic system. Turns out, fishing politics are incredibly complicated, and tie in so many timely concepts. Small-scale farming. Sustainable eating. Local food movements (or in the case of seafood, the lack thereof; van der Voo points out that if you buy a filet-o-fish Don’t even have the words for how impressed I was by this book. I went into it with only the vaguest idea of what it would be about. Van der Voo does a phenomenal job of explaining this multi-layered and multi-perspective-driven economic system. Turns out, fishing politics are incredibly complicated, and tie in so many timely concepts. Small-scale farming. Sustainable eating. Local food movements (or in the case of seafood, the lack thereof; van der Voo points out that if you buy a filet-o-fish at an Alaskan McDonalds, the fish was probably caught in Alaska… then flown to Gloucester, Massachusetts to be breaded, and flown back to Alaska. That’s fucking wild, guys. Think about how much energy is being used to transport that. And also, just like, on its face, how insane that practice is. This makes no sense.) Here’s the skeleton version: Over the past two decades, but especially in the last seven or eight years, the US government has, species of fish by species of fish, selling and granting the right to use the ocean. Selling property rights to the ocean, like selling stocks in a company. “Catch shares,” they’re called. When a species of fish starts losing its ecological grip on the world, the government puts a cap on the number of that fish that can be caught per year (that’s not new) and saying that John Smith has the right to catch and sell 3% of that and Mike Jones has the right to catch 40% of that species of fish (that’s the new part). Now, that’s great because, by basically granting a part of the ocean to these owners, it encourages them to fish in eco-friendly and sustainable ways. If you own a piece of property, you’re more likely to take care of it. Lots of environmental groups are thrilled about this change. And it makes fishing safer, too. Where the former system said “Okay, X number of halibut can be fished this year, starting today! Go get ‘em!” this encouraged the crew to get out there and spend 24/7, QUITE LITERALLY, fishing, because X number could be caught in like, a week, and then you’re shit out of luck if your boat didn’t catch enough. It’s a race to the finish line, and that kind of madcap desperateness means a lot of people get injured or killed. And don’t have any control over their own lives, living and dying by the government’s directives. Plus it makes fish available for longer periods of time of the year (if there’s no mad rush that forces you to stay up 24/7 for like a week, if you’re allowed to catch the same amount of fish no matter how long it takes you, you can stretch that season out to months!). Which is nice for consumers and chefs. And it might even lead to less fish fraud. Before catch shares, before brands like Gulf Wild that allow you to trace fish to the fisherman that caught it and the place it was caught, fish was easy to mislabel. You know the express “all cats are gray in the dark”? Well, all fish are the same with their heads cut off. Large-scale sellers of fish can pretty much just call a fish whatever they like. Whatever’s most convenient, whatever will fill the supply and demand gaps. In 2013, a study found that a third of fish bought by consumers or sold in restaurants aren’t what they were labeled as. (HOW IS THIS LEGAL). On the other hand, the new “catch shares” program is pretty fucked up, because the people who are granted property rights to the ocean are given those based on how much they fished in particular chosen years. You can buy other peoples’ shares (on Craigslist!) like you buy stocks. Of course, this means that there are quite a few ridiculously wealthy individuals or corporations who own like 99% of the shares, and sit around looking pretty in their safe, warm houses while the people who lease their rights to that year’s catch (yes, lease- these are property rights, just like leasing an apartment- you can rent out your “right” to the ocean) are out there in the cold and the salt and the sweat and the injury. And these government-sponsored gatekeepers of the sea do not have to give a fuck about the safety of the crew. They’ve never met them. They get a check, they aren’t too fussed. That’s rights, kids. There are slumlords of the sea. Did none of these people watch Pocahontas? Can’t own the earth, twerps, the earth owns you. Property rights are always bullshit, but this is some next level no. (And in any case, jury’s still out on whether or not this actually makes fishing still sustainable.) Now, some areas have laws trying to discourage this landlording by people who aren’t even fishermen anymore. They don’t want them just sitting pretty in their mansions making money for doing nothing while fishermen are getting paid less than they ever have while working as hard. So some states require the owner of the catch share to actually be on the boat. Nice idea, but this has mostly just turned into these poor fishermen with their boats trying to entice the catch share owners to allow that boat to lease their shares, rather than some other fishing boat. So the fishermen have to invest money in their boats to build some deluxe cabin for the catch share owner, with flat screen TVs and hot tubs and other pointless amenities to have on a fishing boat, in order to get the slumlord on the fucking boat. Pretty much this was just a brilliantly done book. Anyone interested in food politics should get on this.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Gina

    An extremely comprehensive view of the fishing industry from commercial and private POVs. It was a little too in depth for me and fragmented at times, but very informative of the environmental, political, and psychological aspects of this cut throat industry. Ngl it was a struggle to finish this :/ In retrospect , I chose this book off the shelf because I had sushi a few nights prior and the fish on the cover looked delectable - my eyes were bigger than my reading appetite!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    It’s a great read for anyone at all interested (and everyone should be, imho) in the interest big money had taken in fishing conservation, fair employment practices, safe operations, and greed. Van Der Voos interviewees make the point that much good has come from the practice of fish shares, but this is nearly always unnecessarily combined with privatizing the industry. Consequently, fishing rights are mostly held by a few huge companies that have edged out smaller operations, including those fa It’s a great read for anyone at all interested (and everyone should be, imho) in the interest big money had taken in fishing conservation, fair employment practices, safe operations, and greed. Van Der Voos interviewees make the point that much good has come from the practice of fish shares, but this is nearly always unnecessarily combined with privatizing the industry. Consequently, fishing rights are mostly held by a few huge companies that have edged out smaller operations, including those family owned. Chapter One is titled “Bering Sea: Monsanto on the Ocean.” Oregon albacore is held up as one of best practices, community-branded fisheries that support both ocean health and equitable access for everyone.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Yoder

    Very well-written book. The journalism here is rather solid in that van der Voo clearly elucidates how there are winners & losers across the board now that catch shares are spreading across the globe (and especially in the coastal fisheries for the USA). I can't really quickly summarize this book (and the notion of catch shares & privatization of the seas) in terms of a positive or a negative, which is the subtle point of this book as well. There are some clearly positive things that happen when Very well-written book. The journalism here is rather solid in that van der Voo clearly elucidates how there are winners & losers across the board now that catch shares are spreading across the globe (and especially in the coastal fisheries for the USA). I can't really quickly summarize this book (and the notion of catch shares & privatization of the seas) in terms of a positive or a negative, which is the subtle point of this book as well. There are some clearly positive things that happen when one limits how many people can fish a given area and/or fish species, but beyond that there are many gray areas. If some fishermen become landlords, and no new fishermen can acquire catch shares, what then? Is that fair? Is that equitable? No, probably not. But more fish can reappear in many situations, and the safety of the fishing undeniably increases. Of what importance is the Slow Fishing movement (must everything be done slowly?) ? I thoroughly enjoyed The Fish Market, and I'm going to be eating fish again very soon. I might even like to know where it came from, and from whom, which can be enabled by either catch shares or Slow Fishing. I can think of a few people who might enjoy this book. I did receive an ARC (Advance Reading Copy) in exchange for the possibility I might write this review.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Michael Parker

    This book isn't at all about the exciting and fast-paced world of fish mongers, but about the obscure yet consequential catch-share movement (epidemic?). If you don't know what catch-shares are now, you will by the end of this book. Hard to say if that's a good thing, as the subject is rather staid. And van der Voo's handling of the subject doesn't really help; she takes a very ambiguous stance -- half participative field journalist, half policy reporter, hopping from Alaska to New England to Fl This book isn't at all about the exciting and fast-paced world of fish mongers, but about the obscure yet consequential catch-share movement (epidemic?). If you don't know what catch-shares are now, you will by the end of this book. Hard to say if that's a good thing, as the subject is rather staid. And van der Voo's handling of the subject doesn't really help; she takes a very ambiguous stance -- half participative field journalist, half policy reporter, hopping from Alaska to New England to Florida to Asia, boat to boat, conference room to u-shaped table, waxing and waving from anti-catch share extremist to upbeat catch-share promoter.... It's half-accessible stuff that you might be able to get into.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Deb Rudnick

    I thought this book was really interesting. The author does a great job of looking at how catch sharing is transforming fisheries, economically and socially. I was less impressed by the scientific aspects of this issue, which I felt were barely addressed, around the science and uncertainty underlying global fisheries predictions and management. But as an exploration of their socioeconomic components, it's fascinating. I thought this book was really interesting. The author does a great job of looking at how catch sharing is transforming fisheries, economically and socially. I was less impressed by the scientific aspects of this issue, which I felt were barely addressed, around the science and uncertainty underlying global fisheries predictions and management. But as an exploration of their socioeconomic components, it's fascinating.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Carmel Finley

    I am utterly amazed by this book. Lee van der Voo has done something I thought was impossible, to write an understandable book about fisheries catch shares and have it be both accurate and easy to read. There is voluminous literature on catch shares in many, many academic journals, all of it couched in the dense vernacular of social scientists, with their irritating acronyms and obtuse theoretical constructions. Even for somebody with an interest in the subject, it can be heavy lifting. But van d I am utterly amazed by this book. Lee van der Voo has done something I thought was impossible, to write an understandable book about fisheries catch shares and have it be both accurate and easy to read. There is voluminous literature on catch shares in many, many academic journals, all of it couched in the dense vernacular of social scientists, with their irritating acronyms and obtuse theoretical constructions. Even for somebody with an interest in the subject, it can be heavy lifting. But van der Voo took it from the other direction, from the individual people who are involved in catch shares, and then worked back through their stories to show what catch shares means for some individual fishermen and their communities. Environmental groups sold the idea of catch shares to corporations and politicians, promising private ownership of the resource would bring about sustainable fishing. She paints a powerful picture of how catch shares are changing fishing. By keeping her focus so tightly on people, she does not place catch shares into their wider ideological foundation, neoliberalism. Van der Voo’s book describes the outcomes of several of these catch sharing programs, by interviewing people who have been involved; some were successful, others were not. It was an absorbing read, but the conclusions were vague and unclear, not distinguishing that catch shares can be part of a governmental system, but that in some areas without strong governing body, can lead to inequities.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Helen

    A well-crafted and well-researched tome, this book elaborates all this is good and bad about the US Government's efforts to prevent the overfishing of American waters, and the extinction of numerous fish species. Van der Voo spent a lot of time with fishermen, on fishing boats, in marine association meetings all around the country to understand the advantages and disadvantages of catch shares, the government's efforts to privatize the ocean, to prevent over-fishing and make commercial fishing sa A well-crafted and well-researched tome, this book elaborates all this is good and bad about the US Government's efforts to prevent the overfishing of American waters, and the extinction of numerous fish species. Van der Voo spent a lot of time with fishermen, on fishing boats, in marine association meetings all around the country to understand the advantages and disadvantages of catch shares, the government's efforts to privatize the ocean, to prevent over-fishing and make commercial fishing safer for Americans. In alternating chapters, she reports where it is working and where it is not, the successes and failures in various locales, from Alaska to Florida, Maine to Oregon. As with any system, there are loopholes, and van der Voo uncovers them and the greedy men who find them, to disastrous effect. But she also finds the men with moral compasses that work to bring fresh, wild fish to as many Americans as possible, while protecting and supporting the brave men who choose to fish. There is a whole chapter on the town I live, a small fishing village on the Oregon Coast. With no catch shares here, something far more sustainable has been found, keeping commercial fishing alive and well. In the acknowledgements, the author credits a NY Times editor with focusing the book for her, saying, "People don't care about fish or fishing. People care about seafood." That profound comment and the resulting book, made this a worthwhile read.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Gerdes

    I purchased this book after catching half the interview on NRP when it was released. Well written, of course, and an easy read. I guess my overall comment is that after reading it, I felt like I'd caught all the highlights of the book on the interview, and I was expecting to be continually wow'd in each chapter. As an author of non-fiction myself, I know that's what I strive to do for the reader-and perhaps I fall short of that myself. Still, if you didn't catch the on-air interviews, and are in I purchased this book after catching half the interview on NRP when it was released. Well written, of course, and an easy read. I guess my overall comment is that after reading it, I felt like I'd caught all the highlights of the book on the interview, and I was expecting to be continually wow'd in each chapter. As an author of non-fiction myself, I know that's what I strive to do for the reader-and perhaps I fall short of that myself. Still, if you didn't catch the on-air interviews, and are interested in the 'business side' of the fish and food industry, then it's an interesting read. I know that all my chef/culinary friends have read this, and we have had lots of engaging discussions about the topic. For non-fish/non-restaurant people---I think those in the foodie group would like this book. Others? maybe not so much.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Elaine

    I won this in a Goodreads Giveaway. At the time, I was actually curious about the fish market. Unfortunately, as I cracked open the book and began reading, I became much less intrigued. Admittedly, I did not finish reading this book. I am giving this book 2 stars, because, although I was not interested, it isn't poorly written. I suggest this book only to those who are truly interested in the topic!! I apologize for not giving this book as much of my time as it deserves. I intend to donate my co I won this in a Goodreads Giveaway. At the time, I was actually curious about the fish market. Unfortunately, as I cracked open the book and began reading, I became much less intrigued. Admittedly, I did not finish reading this book. I am giving this book 2 stars, because, although I was not interested, it isn't poorly written. I suggest this book only to those who are truly interested in the topic!! I apologize for not giving this book as much of my time as it deserves. I intend to donate my copy to the library where I work.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Theresa

    This is a thorough account of how Catch Shares work, and who gets left behind when they are implemented in the name of managing fisheries without managing the communities that depend on them. Highly recommended for any seafood lover. Should be required reading for fisheries managers.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Susan Csoke

    A fabulously interesting book all about fish from the ocean to your plate. So whether you are a fisherman or a seafood lover, you will enjoy reading this book!!!!! THANK YOU GOOD READS FIRST READS FOR THIS FREE BOOK!!!!!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Aaron

    This is an excellent and fair journalistic account of the transition to catch shares and the social havoc it has caused as the fishing industry becomes increasingly consolidated into owners and renters of rights to fish.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Keating

    I was really looking forward to this book but didn't enjoy it as much as I wanted to. Heard an interview on the subject of our fishing industry and it sounded intriguing. But the book kinda jumped around a lot and it was hard to keep it all straight - who was who, etc. I was really looking forward to this book but didn't enjoy it as much as I wanted to. Heard an interview on the subject of our fishing industry and it sounded intriguing. But the book kinda jumped around a lot and it was hard to keep it all straight - who was who, etc.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    There wasn't a lot in here that I didn't know but I still enjoyed it quite a bit. There wasn't a lot in here that I didn't know but I still enjoyed it quite a bit.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Eliel Lopez

    A very interesting read. It was the first I had heard of catch shares.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jenny

    Just didn't grab me, even though there is a chapter on Port Orford, Oregon. Just didn't grab me, even though there is a chapter on Port Orford, Oregon.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Aslaug

    I wanted to like this book more than I did. I am quite familiar with the concept and implementation of catch shares so I didn't really learn much new by reading it. I wanted to like this book more than I did. I am quite familiar with the concept and implementation of catch shares so I didn't really learn much new by reading it.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Haselrig

    I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway. Having never watched Deadliest Catch, I missed the revolution in the fishing industry over the past two decades. A revolution in the form of a new regulatory tool called catch shares which, in effect, privatized a natural resource in an attempt to regulate and instill some order in an industry that had previously operated in a state of controlled chaos. Gone are the "Derby Days" in which a severely shortened fishing seasons could see ships and their c I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway. Having never watched Deadliest Catch, I missed the revolution in the fishing industry over the past two decades. A revolution in the form of a new regulatory tool called catch shares which, in effect, privatized a natural resource in an attempt to regulate and instill some order in an industry that had previously operated in a state of controlled chaos. Gone are the "Derby Days" in which a severely shortened fishing seasons could see ships and their crews racing against the clock, bad weather and their own well-being to secure a year’s catch in a matter of days. Enter catch shares which granted a percentage of the seas' yield to a number of individuals or groups with the idea that those granted these shares would have a stake in the stewardship of the natural resources under their control. Written in an accessible, journalistic style, The Fish Market guides you through this revolution in an even-handed manner that shows both the good that came out of Catch Shares and the unintended consequences that arise with any regulation on this scale. Author Lee van der Voo does an excellent job putting a human face on what could have been a very dry, technical subject. Recommended.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Pam

    Before this book I didn't even know what catch shares were. This book talks about the changes to the fishing industry as a result of environmental concerns - to preserve fishing populations for future generations. It talks about how the catch shares program has been privatized and gives individual stories of the impact that privatization (holding the fishing rights in a few hands) has had on communities and individual small fishermen. This is a fairly well balanced book. My one problem is I thin Before this book I didn't even know what catch shares were. This book talks about the changes to the fishing industry as a result of environmental concerns - to preserve fishing populations for future generations. It talks about how the catch shares program has been privatized and gives individual stories of the impact that privatization (holding the fishing rights in a few hands) has had on communities and individual small fishermen. This is a fairly well balanced book. My one problem is I think the author at the end does not believe that the current structure is fair or good but the book presents so many positives to the environment, to the fish supply as a whole and to consumers and chefs who want a steady predictable stream of fish that I think he makes a strong argument for why the current system works so well. Also, he fails to present any proposed changes that would solve the problems he sees with the current solution. But overall I really learned a lot from this book and it was well written and a clear explanation of something I did not know before. I received a free copy from Goodreads but my opinions are my own.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Laurent

    Van der Voo clearly researched her subject thoroughly. She conveys her findings in an engaging manner, placing the reader in the boats with some colorful characters , and explaining the effects of fishing regulations through their experiences. A quick informative and entertaining read on a subject that could easily have turned into a bore.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sinem

  23. 5 out of 5

    Lucianna Wolfstone

  24. 5 out of 5

    Titus

  25. 5 out of 5

    John Verlinden

  26. 4 out of 5

    Amy Pochodylo

  27. 5 out of 5

    Sara

  28. 4 out of 5

    Bonnie Morse

  29. 4 out of 5

    Gemma

  30. 5 out of 5

    Storie

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