Fish Fillets and Environmental Justice
With our good fortune, last night we dined on fillet of Haddock, a wonderful, mild flavored cold water marine fish, and Largemouth Bass derived from Fish Fry Lake, our research pond. We leverage nature’s wetland effect in Fish Fry, and cycle nutrients into healthy fish, instead of algae and cyanobacteria. Three of us had equal portions of both types of fish. The fish fillets had been dusted with chestnut flour and toasted onion powder, and sautéed in olive oil. They passed muster even by my partner Anne’s discerning palate.
One river, the Susquehanna, provides 40% of the nutrients that are impairing Chesapeake Bay. As the river comes out of New York state and moves through urban centers like Harrisburg and ultimately, Baltimore, industry and agriculture have had their way with it. The water is both impaired and dangerous. According to NOAA, 52% of Americans live within coastal counties. Take Alaska out of the equation and the relative coastal human concentrations become even more apparent.
Agriculture’s contribution to nutrient impairment of water is somewhere between 80 to 85%. Farmers, mostly white, have been sold a bill of goods. Most believe that synthetic fertilizer is fundamental to their livelihood. The chemical giants have sold them on this “impaired” wisdom. So rivers like the Susquehanna, continue to send their “load” down watershed.
Catch a four pound Smallmouth Bass from an eddy of the river downstream from Harrisburg, and check it out for deformities. Is it safe to eat?
Is there even enough dissolved oxygen, which goes away in the presence of concentrated nutrients, to sustain Smallmouth at that point in the river’s course towards Baltimore? The Smallmouth is a marker species. If they thrive, so do we. But as the faulty commercial motivations of agriculture are left to their own devices, the people, mostly people of color concentrated in coastal communities, are hammered with the end results: impaired water and impaired biota.
Nature is much bigger, and more powerful, than human contrivances, like nutrients from farms. Nature doesn’t care a whit. She just keeps on coming. Here on Fish Fry, my personal job of stewardship is to “nudge” the lake towards nature’s wetland effect. And I am totally amazed and grateful, that nature responds ten-fold.
We are at a crossroads. The current administration, marked by a distinct environmental dysfunction, is being forced out of control. Thank you lord!
If we can wend our way through the environmental morass left by the Trump disaster, if we can focus on “response,” instead of “reaction,” we will move towards equitable and sustainable environmental policy. Whether it’s top down or bottom up, doesn’t matter much. Key is that environmentally conscious movement happens.
I remember marveling at the sight of a black kid, maybe a year or two older than me at the time, making fish fillets of a three inch goldfish he’d just caught from a park pond just up watershed from Lake Michigan in downtown Milwaukee, near where I lived. He ate the raw fillets in front of me. He was that hungry.
Carp are a marker species too. In this case, they marked desperation and hunger.
We can do far better!