While fulfilling my science requirements at Western Washington University, I enrolled in Environmental Science 101. It was in a massive lecture-style classroom that was filled with at least 300 bodies. The professor was a young(ish) man who wore cargo pants and Merrell hiking shoes as a uniform of sorts—a far cry from the tweeds of a college professor cliché, but up in Bellingham it just seemed right. Every day before class our professor played Pearl Jam or Led Zeppelin while we took our seats. Although it was crowded and often stuffy in that lecture hall, the content made the class feel intimate, and it is one of the courses that has left the strongest impression on me, even nine years after it concluded.
I found it easy to care about the topics in the class—overpopulation, pollution, deforestation—but what really hit home for me was learning about overfishing. When I learned about trawling (which consists of pulling a fishing net behind a boat along the ocean floor and often destroying sensitive habitats, upsetting the reproduction of a species, and unintentionally killing accidentally caught fish or “bycatch”), I was deeply alarmed. When I learned about surface longlining (dragging lines with hooks along the top of the ocean, catching and killing unintended species such as turtles and birds), I was heartbroken. How, with as much access to technology and resources as we have, was a more conscientious method not implemented, and what could I do about it? It has been nine years since I took Environmental Studies 101, but the distaste lingered, so when I learned that Sasquatch Books was planning to publish Becky Selengut Good Fish, I was over the moon.
Overfishing is a topic with growing momentum. Documentary films and TV series, such as The End of the Line, The Cove, and the UK’s Big Fish Fight, as well as numerous websites are bringing more universal awareness to overfishing. But this does not mean that we need to stop eating fish altogether; after all, we know fish is tasty and full of the nutrients we need. But it has never been more important for people to start eating the right kind of fish or, if you will, the good fish.
There are so many simple things we can do, and Selengut is here to school the masses: purchase wild-caught salmon instead of farmed, avoid fish caught in Southeast Asia, ask your grocery store butcher or fishmonger where their fish comes from. You can rest easy and eat well knowing you did your part. With Good Fish as my textbook, I now know which fish to buy, where to buy it, and how to cook it.
One of my all-time favorite quotes is from a fairly ridiculous movie, but I find that I can apply it almost any situation: You can’t change the world, but you can make a dent. I still consider many of the things we discussed in that crowded and often stuffy lecture hall almost a decade ago, and I make them part of my daily practice. I hope many of my fellow students do as well, and I believe that if we all pitch in, we can make a pretty damn big dent.