Fisheries and Aquaculture

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

Of all our foods, fish and shellfish are the only ones that we still harvest in significant quantities from the wild. The history of the world’s fisheries is the saga of human ingenuity, bravery, hunger, and wastefulness evolving into a maw that now swallows much of the oceans’ tremendous productivity. In 1883, the eminent biologist T. H. Huxley expressed his belief that “the cod fishery, the herring fishery, the pilchard fishery, the mackerel fishery, and probably all the great sea fisheries are inexhaustible; that is to say that nothing we do seriously affects the numbers of fish.” Just over a century later, cod and herring stocks on both sides of the North Atlantic have collapsed, many other fish are in decline, and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that we are harvesting two-thirds of the major commercial fish in the world at or beyond the level at which they can sustain themselves.