Eat Like a Fish: a Review

by frankbeswick

This is an interesting book that deals with the author's journey through tough times to become a promoter of green living

The environment is a matter of major concern for all save climate change deniers, and one serious issue is the need to provide food for a rising population.Land resources are at best static in extent, but depleting in quality. The resources of the oceans are already diminishing with over-fishing. This book deals with Bren Smith's journey from wild-living fisherman to shellfish and algae farmer and advocate of regenerative ocean farming. It is a book well-written and worth reading.

Image courtesy of NicoleBohner of Pixabay

The Author

This book is partly autobiographical, as it deals with the writer's progress from under-performing Nova Scotian school drop out through a life that was at the time on the fringe of ;legality and through an existence as an Alaskan fisherman in the Bering Sea.He  tell of tough men fighting hard seas and the dangers of fishing on the fringe of the Arctic. Hard lives breed wild living, and Smith makes no secret of the heavy drinking, rumbustious lifestyle  that he lived.  It passes through his various attempts to improve his career and his failed relationships towards a successful conclusion as  a respectable ocean farmer settled in a stable relationship.  The book has therefore a deservedly happy ending.

As a writer and sometime teacher of English I was impressed that one who had dropped out of school could write so well, with such clarity. We must attribute this success to his having a natural talent for writing that lay unawakened for many years, but now is happily and successfully brought to life. The book is informative and because it is well paced manages to sustain interest throughout.

Eat Like a Fish manages to combine biographical information with technical details of ocean farming,which include some valuable insights,with some sage advice about doing business and historical details which reveal some thorough research. 

Smith is adamant that fish farms are ecologically destructive, as not only do they pollute the seabed with their fish dung, but feed several kilograms of wild fish for every kilogram of  farmed  fish, but the escapees, which tend to be larger than wild fish,  interbreed detrimentally with wild stocks. Smith chose a non-destructive mode of farming, growing shellfish and seaweed, the latter of which has long been used and has many culinary and other uses. There is a section on seaweed and shellfish recipes, which is worth dipping into if you have culinary interests.

Learning from the Book

When I read a non-fiction book I like to learn something that I can take away with me, coming out of the book better informed than I was when I started reading; and this book met my needs in this respect. I am never going to run an ocean farm, but it is good to know how one works.

There is interesting information about the construction and running of shellfish and seaweed farms. Some of this applies to farms anywhere in the world, but there is specific information pertinent to the east coast of North America, where the author, whose farm is near Long Island, is based. In particular he has to deal with the consequences of hurricanes, which destroyed his oyster crop on one occasion by stirring up mud on the seabed, which smothered the oysters. We learn how he adapted his techniques and technology to obviate the dangers, and his strategy seems to have worked. The legal stuff about establishing ocean farms is probably relevant  to the United States and cannot be applied elsewhere without adaptation. 

What I did find very relevant is his chapter "Swimming With Sharks" which gave cautionary stories of his encounters with Wall Street financiers and the narrow misses he sustained in his dealings with them. He emphasises the importance of getting a lawyer to study contract proposals. He also tells of how it is important to follow your gut instincts about a potential employee, for one whom he hired was up to no good. This section is a cautionary tale warning against the seductions of becoming too big, and, though he does not mention the phrase, our minds are drawn to Schumacher's philosophy, Small is Beautiful. Keep your operation a manageable size is the message here and always deal with people whom you have ensured that you can trust, the book insists. There are many people of inspiring goodness in this book.

Smith has a vision of a network of ocean farms surrounding the coast, and to this end he has established his own organisation called Green Wave. This is a social organisation that does not seek a profit or to swell at the expense of others. It is to be Smith's legacy. 



This book is not explicitly spiritual, but there is an implicit spirituality within it. One of the key points is the way in which Smith's state of  mind changed when he moved from the hunting lifestyle of  deep water fisherman to the life of a quiet farmer. He developed inner peace  and calm.Yet we think of the sharks who hunted him, he had become not predator but to some degree prey.Yet he did not become a victim. 

The book presents a green, ecologically harmonious lifestyle, but not in a preachy way.It shows us how good people can work in their own way to live in harmony with the environment. I am pleased that Smith states that he does not care what someone has done, but what they are now. He  is perhaps reflecting on his younger years with a degree of humility and awareness that moral luck shapes our lives more than we would like to admit .It''s  an account of the blessings of quiet, productive living. 

This is  a good book, interesting to read and informative. I commend it to readers.

Updated: 09/05/2019, frankbeswick
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frankbeswick on 03/21/2023

I don't know these etymologies. But in Cornwall sardines were known as pilchards, though for marketing reasons they are now sold as Cornish sardines.

I have not eaten stargazie l pie, but I know what it is. The top half of the fishes protrude from the piecrust. Stargazie pie is not a dessert, it is a main course.The pie is eaten in honour of Tom Bawcock, which means Tom Goodman, who sailed out in a storm to catch fish to feed his hungry fellow villagers.p

DerdriuMarriner on 03/20/2023

NCIS: Hawai'i had an episode about the National Criminal Investigative Service's Special Agent Afloat Program on Navy carriers, ships and submaries.

The episode indicated that someone waterphobic -- of which the NCIS Special Agent who must participate in the program for a few months is -- feels like canned, dense-packed sardines.

Online sources indicate that sardine perhaps comes from the ancient world valuing Sardinian sardines or from Greek words that start with sard-, such as sard gemstones, Sardis and sardonyx. They mention Sardinia as unlikely because of being so far away from Greek fish-eaters and fishers.

Online sources noted a Cornish dessert named stargazy pie, with pilchards stuffed part inside, part outside pie crusts.

I wonder about the etymologies because of having to eat sardines while recovering from childhood scarlet fever.

Would you know which of the above etymologies -- or some other -- seems the most convincing for why we call sardines sardines?

Also, would you know what stargazy pie tastes like?

frankbeswick on 11/12/2019

Strange that you mentioned wild ocean waters, for I am just about to write a book review which touches upon that subject.

I have eaten seaweed, dulce, which the Irish call dillusk [water leaf.] It is chewy and tastes a bit salty.

Mira on 11/12/2019

Nice read. I like the idea of shellfish and seaweed farms along ocean coasts. I'm surprised it's not done more. Also, I like that this person who led a rumbustious life, as you called it, has found his way to ocean waters, which are similarly wild (unfortunately too much so these days).

frankbeswick on 09/05/2019

Certainly, the author's younger life was not spiritual, but I am impressed with the growth that he displays.

frankbeswick on 09/05/2019

Dear Derdriu, thanks for your response.

Smith says that seaweed has been used in many cultures, and he mentions native European traditions of its use in the British Isles. Wales has its laver bread and the Irish have dillusk, both seaweed dishes. Scots and Irish both used seaweed s fertiliser for poor soil..

The network of farms would be independent. Green Wave refuses centralisation.

blackspanielgallery on 09/04/2019

I see you delve deep to find a meaning, perhaps one that shows through even though the author might not realize it is there.

DerdriuMarriner on 09/04/2019

frankbeswick, Thank you for the practicalities and products.
You indicate that "Smith chose a non-destructive mode of farming, growing shellfish and seaweed, the latter of which has long been used and has many culinary and other uses." Is the seaweed culinary tradition that you identify that of Japan or is it that your side of the pond has English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh takes on seafood dishes?
Is the "network of ocean farms surrounding the coast" one of ocean farmers each working their coastal area independently? Or is there some kind of centralization provided by Green Wave?
Small Is Beautiful offers such a harmonious respect for nature and people that I thank you for revisiting E.F. Schumacher's economics that make for a nature and a people that matter.

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