Students from Knox and Augustana College, along with Galesburg residents, welcomed author and fisherman Paul Greenberg to Harbach Theatre Monday afternoon.
Greenberg, author of the New York Times bestseller “Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food,” was brought to campus as the EquiKnox Distinguished Lecturer through support from numerous academic departments and campus organizations, including KARES, Alliance for Peaceful Action and Phi Gamma Delta fraternity.
“It all came out of an anxiety attack,” Greenberg said of his book.
Greenberg’s lecture centered on four key fish: salmon, sea bass, cod and tuna, and how human demand and consumption of them has led to overfishing in the oceans and the development of fish farms.
“In the next 10 years, farmed fish is going to surpass wild fish in the marketplace for the first time in history,” Greenberg said during his address. “That’s an epic, epic shift.”
Even though aquaculture, or farmed fishing, is becoming the norm, Greenberg noted that seafood companies are still trying to package their products as coming from the ocean, specifically the Atlantic salmon.
“Every time you eat Atlantic salmon, it is farmed,” Greenberg said. “It’s like a complete illusion, a complete slight of hand that’s been put over on the consumer.”
Greenberg noted that the challenge to farm sea bass was an undertaking of multiple countries that set in motion the idea of aquaculture known today.
“It was like a fish Manhattan project,” he said of the challenge. “By decoding the things that made sea bass domesticable, it meant that you could domesticate any fish in the ocean.”
Using the example of the Nile Tilapia, a type of cod, Greenberg stated that the American consumer is willing to accept lower quality in return for feeding a rapidly growing population.
“At the end of the day,” he said, “what Americans are looking for and what a lot of the developed world is looking for in a fish is fish that tastes like nothing. And that’s what a Tilapia tastes like.”
According to Greenberg, the last frontier of fishing is tuna that occupy the open oceans, and he is questioning whether that frontier is something worth conquering.
“You start to think, is it food or is it wildlife?” he said about tuna. “I’m starting to lean in the direction of feeling it’s wildlife.”
Although Greenberg stated that aquaculture is “unavoidable,” he also believes that humans need to redefine their relationship with fish and their habitats.
“There does seem to be this human desire to eradicate wildness and replace it with a more predictable thing,” he said.
Students who attended the lecture had mixed reactions afterword. Sophomore Carrie Stephen thought learning about the history of fish was quite interesting and was pleased that the talk was not as pessimistic as she thought it would be.
“It was like, ‘Well, people are always going to be eating fish, so let’s talk about how we can still eat fish but not necessarily decimate fish populations,” she said.
Alexandra Blust, an Augustana student who traveled to attend Greenberg’s lecture, thought he was an engaging speaker.
“I didn’t know how much was farmed, how much was wild,” she said. “It raised an ecological consciousness.”
Senior Martin Yeager, however, questioned why Greenberg seemed to be backing solutions that were not what he was learning about in environmental studies classes.
“I was surprised he was encouraging the mass production of a limited species of fish,” Yeager said after the talk.
Senior Audrey Todd, a member of KARES who helped bring Greenberg to Knox, echoed his sentiment.
“I was surprised he didn’t advocate more for sustainable fishing,” she said.
Senior Elizabeth Cockrell, the KARES treasurer who first proposed the idea of bringing Greenberg to campus after her internship in Alaska last summer, was glad that, regardless of students’ opinions on Greenberg, the conversation about seafood was beginning to happen in the Knox and Galesburg community.
“It was great to see people’s interest in this event,” she stated. “I’m glad that we reached out to a lot of people.”
Preceding the lecture, a Sustainability Fair was quite active in the Ford Center for the Fine Arts lobby, featuring tabling by Knox Democrats, KARES, Alliance for Peaceful Action and the Student Sustainability Taskforce, as well as local organizations such as Sitka Salmon Shares, Planned Parenthood Illinois, Radish Magazine, Galesburg FFA and Jim Stanley farm.
Additionally, a sustainably harvested fish dinner featuring three of the four fish discussed in Greenberg’s book was offered by Dining Services following the lecture, open to students and the public.