In which a hard-living old salt sees the light and works to undo some of the damage wrought by extractive fishing, becoming a “restorative ocean farmer.”
“I’ve paid my debt to the sea,” writes Smith. “I dropped out of high school to fish and spent too many nights in jail. My body is beat to hell: I crawl out of bed like a lobster most mornings.” In what he deems a “long, blustery journey,” he describes how he came to realize that overfishing, climate change, ocean acidification, and other forces are making it impossible to extract a living from the sea—at least the sea as it is now. Instead, he has been busily working a stretch of Long Island Sound, raising shellfish and kelp, both of which are restorative; they filter out bad stuff, attract fish, and can provide a good living for people who practice “underwater gardening.” That’s one term; Smith confesses that he doesn’t quite know what to call what he does, with phrases like “regenerative ocean farming” preferred over the hated “aquaculture.” Whatever the case, the work is inarguably restorative, and Smith harbors a big vision of lots of little oceanic farms producing tons of seaweed and hundreds of thousands of crustaceans per acre—an economic revolution, he ventures, that could create 50 million direct jobs and a whole host of related ones. The author is no purist—he allows that he has a weakness for McDonald’s fish sandwiches and once lived a life of “stealing, dealing, fighting”—but it’s clear that he’s found a place among the back-to-the-landers, foodies, and greenies whom he might have made fun of back in the day but whom he now sees as allies in the work of “transforming fishermen into farmers." And despite his fast food jones, he closes with an inviting set of recipes, including one for fake scampi that uses kelp instead of shrimp and olive oil instead of butter, making it a vegan delight.
A thoughtful and often entertaining eco-agro-pescatorial manifesto sure to inspire like-minded readers.