Eat Like a Fish

Title: Eat Like a Fish

Author: Bren Smith

Completed: August 2021

Overview: First book to make me want to start (ocean) farming. I also want to sample more varieties of kelp. Mostly a biography with a lot of discussions about the business side of ocean farming. Enjoyable


  • Nora and Grace had the haunting gift of laughing at pain. Not at others’ misfortune, just at their own. The tail ends of their stories of beatings by boyfriends or the bigotry of neighbors were punctuated with full-throated belly laughs. I learned to giggle along. And the trait soaked in. Decades later, upper-class New England WASPs would point out my dark habit, worried I had a fetish for pain. I don’t. The Irish sum it up: Gather around you those that have just the right amount of suffering.
  • We were a people that salted our words. “Who knit ya?” meant “Who are your parents?” “Fire up a scoff” meant “Make some food.” “Gutfounded” meant “hungry.” “Long may your big jib draw” meant “Good luck.” “Put the ol’ slut on” meant “Put the kettle on the stove.”
  • Strides are being made in the feed sector as well. Some farming operations have been able to drive down their wild fish feeding ratios from six pounds of wild fish per pound of farmed fish to nearly one-to-one.
  • Fish farmers have finally realized they don’t have to feed their fish wild fish to get the high levels of omega-3 fatty acids that consumers are demanding. Fish don’t make omega-3’s themselves; they can get them from eating seaweeds. The Ireland-based company Ocean Harvest Technology has developed a seaweed-based salmon feed alternative called OceanFeed that has been shown to produce salmon with higher levels of omega-3’s than those grown with a standard diet. Adding seaweed to the feed also helps to boost the immune system of the fish, reducing a farmer’s reliance on chemicals and antibiotics.
  • I scoured old dictionaries and word-o-phile websites for words that had fallen out of usage and captured something ephemeral: petrichor, the smell of rain on dry earth; limerence, the first moments of love; ruckle, the last shuddering breath of death; rememble, a false memory; macarism, taking pleasure in someone else’s joy; musiphobist, a person with a deep and sustained fear of poetry.
  • I learned that people buy stories, not stuff. I learned to talk nonstop, reciting my reclaimed words like poetry. People would gather around my street table just to listen. Yes, they got a kick out of the knickknacks, but what they took home—what I was selling—was a story. The magnet itself mattered little; what sold was packaging a tale that they could take home and tell others.
  • Shellfish were also the lifeline for salt marshes. Trillions of oysters were once the cold-water coral reefs of America, functioning as the foundation of the ecosystem. Beyond offering refuge to hundreds of marine species, one acre of oyster reef filters 140 million gallons of water an hour and removes three thousand pounds of nitrogen a year. When the first English settlers landed, oysters were filtering the entire bay about once every four days. Ships had to navigate around the massive oyster reefs.
  • But as I soon learned, “owning” the water didn’t actually mean I owned the water. I wasn’t actually going to own my farm; I only owned the right to grow shellfish or other permitted species. This was all hard to get my head around. Unlike on land-based farms, there was no concept of trespassing, so the community was going to be able to do whatever they wanted on my “property.” Anyone was going to be allowed to boat, fish, swim on my grounds. The only thing the public was blocked from doing was farming. Commercial fishermen could even still gillnet, and lobstermen could still drop traps. As a farmer, I owned a process right, not a property right. This ocean-farming world was going to take some mental adjustment.
  • Here’s what the Big Greens like Greenpeace don’t get: For most working Americans, climate change is not an environmental issue. It’s not about saving birds, bees, or even bears stranded and starving on melting ice floes. It’s about bread-and-butter economics. In the wake of Sandy, eighty-three thousand people lost their jobs in New York City. Unemployment rates skyrocketed along the storm path up into Vermont. In the last ten years alone, the impact of climate change has cost the American economy at least $240 billion a year, and the future economic costs within the U.S. borders are predicted to be the second-highest in the world, behind only India.
  • I’d see locals boating, fishing, and swimming where I worked. And commercial gillnetters regularly set their nets around my farm, because fish are attracted to my crops; the goal was protecting, not privatizing, the ocean.
  • I often get asked how I invented 3D ocean farming. I didn’t; individual inspiration is a myth. Invention is stealing, borrowing, listening, collaboration. I ripped off a thousand years of global history; my only innovation is synthesizing,
  • Native seaweeds contain more vitamin C than orange juice, more calcium than milk, and more protein than soybeans. Those on the hunt for omega-3’s are often surprised to learn that fish don’t create these heart-healthy nutrients by themselves—they consume them. By eating the plants fish eat, we get the same benefits, while reducing pressure on fish stocks. So it’s high time that we eat like fish.
  • Some seaweed was partially dried, then fermented in a wooden chest layered between planks of cedar for flavor, weighted down with a stone for about a month. The final product was a flat seaweed cake that withstood long-term storage and was eaten chopped and cooked with fat or in soup.
  • But kelp was another matter. It has a hyper-short shelf life—less than half an hour. It hates oxygen, and begins to shrivel and rot soon after being hauled out of the water.
  • Vertical integration is at the root of a linear economy that consolidates the benefits to a few at the top. As Dan Barber, a hero of the organic food movement and co-owner of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, explains: “In the rush to industrialize farming, we’ve lost the understanding, implicit since the beginning of agriculture, that food is a process, a web of relationships, not an individual ingredient or commodity.” We don’t want one thousand-acre monoculture farm, but, rather, a hundred ten-acre farms dotting our coastline.
  • If we’re going to build a new economy, then who farms matters. I started GreenWave to make sure poor and working people are on the front lines of the blue-green revolution. These groups range from farmers and fishermen pushed off the land and sea by globalization and climate change to First Nations and other marginalized groups who have been systematically excluded from sharing in the benefits of the industrial revolution. I don’t care if you’re a former felon or an undocumented immigrant—as long as you work hard, you have the right to a good, meaningful job.
  • Collaboration, Not Competition: There is a co-op of seaweed farmers in Japan that meets every December to share lessons learned. Each year, members are assigned one problem to solve. They spend the year experimenting and documenting, and return in December to report their progress. They do the same thing year after year. I love this example, because it’s founded on the principle that collaboration, not competition, spurs innovation and adoption of new practices. It is understood that rapid cycles of learning make for a nimble industry that internalizes the best practices and greases the wheels for scale.
  • Bladderwrack is one of the better-known ocean greens. Air-filled bladders stud its blades, ranging from pea-sized to marble-sized, and increasing in number with the turbulence of the waves. Between bladders, the fronds are flat and smooth, and range in color from spring green to a light chestnut. The frond has a strong flavor reminiscent of salty fish, and is best as the starring character of a dish. It’s excellent in broths and sauces as a counterbalance to acidic flavors and fats.