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  • So, I've known a lot of fish in my life.

  • I've loved only two.

  • That first one,

  • it was more like a passionate affair.

  • It was a beautiful fish:

  • flavorful, textured, meaty,

  • a bestseller on the menu.

  • What a fish.

  • (Laughter)

  • Even better,

  • it was farm-raised to the supposed highest standards

  • of sustainability.

  • So you could feel good about selling it.

  • I was in a relationship with this beauty

  • for several months.

  • One day, the head of the company called

  • and asked if I'd speak at an event

  • about the farm's sustainability.

  • "Absolutely," I said.

  • Here was a company trying to solve

  • what's become this unimaginable problem for us chefs:

  • How do we keep fish on our menus?

  • For the past 50 years,

  • we've been fishing the seas

  • like we clear-cut forests.

  • It's hard to overstate the destruction.

  • Ninety percent of large fish, the ones we love --

  • the tunas, the halibuts, the salmons, swordfish --

  • they've collapsed.

  • There's almost nothing left.

  • So, for better or for worse,

  • aquaculture, fish farming, is going to be a part of our future.

  • A lot of arguments against it:

  • Fish farms pollute -- most of them do anyway --

  • and they're inefficient. Take tuna,

  • a major drawback.

  • It's got a feed conversion ratio

  • of 15 to one.

  • That means it takes fifteen pounds of wild fish

  • to get you one pound of farm tuna.

  • Not very sustainable.

  • It doesn't taste very good either.

  • So here, finally,

  • was a company trying to do it right.

  • I wanted to support them.

  • The day before the event,

  • I called the head of P.R. for the company.

  • Let's call him Don.

  • "Don," I said, "just to get the facts straight, you guys are famous

  • for farming so far out to sea, you don't pollute."

  • "That's right," he said. "We're so far out,

  • the waste from our fish gets distributed,

  • not concentrated."

  • And then he added,

  • "We're basically a world unto ourselves.

  • That feed conversion ratio? 2.5 to one," he said.

  • "Best in the business."

  • 2.5 to one, great.

  • "2.5 what? What are you feeding?"

  • "Sustainable proteins," he said.

  • "Great," I said. Got off the phone.

  • And that night, I was lying in bed, and I thought:

  • What the hell is a sustainable protein?

  • (Laughter)

  • So the next day, just before the event, I called Don.

  • I said, "Don, what are some examples of sustainable proteins?"

  • He said he didn't know. He would ask around.

  • Well, I got on the phone with a few people in the company;

  • no one could give me a straight answer

  • until finally, I got on the phone

  • with the head biologist.

  • Let's call him Don too.

  • (Laughter)

  • "Don," I said,

  • "what are some examples of sustainable proteins?"

  • Well, he mentioned some algaes

  • and some fish meals,

  • and then he said chicken pellets.

  • I said, "Chicken pellets?"

  • He said, "Yeah, feathers, skin,

  • bone meal, scraps,

  • dried and processed into feed."

  • I said, "What percentage

  • of your feed is chicken?"

  • Thinking, you know, two percent.

  • "Well, it's about 30 percent," he said.

  • I said, "Don, what's sustainable

  • about feeding chicken to fish?"

  • (Laughter)

  • There was a long pause on the line,

  • and he said, "There's just too much chicken in the world."

  • (Laughter)

  • I fell out of love with this fish.

  • (Laughter)

  • No, not because I'm some self-righteous,

  • goody-two shoes foodie.

  • I actually am.

  • (Laughter)

  • No, I actually fell out of love with this fish because, I swear to God,

  • after that conversation, the fish tasted like chicken.

  • (Laughter)

  • This second fish,

  • it's a different kind of love story.

  • It's the romantic kind,

  • the kind where the more you get to know your fish,

  • you love the fish.

  • I first ate it at a restaurant

  • in southern Spain.

  • A journalist friend had been talking about this fish for a long time.

  • She kind of set us up.

  • (Laughter)

  • It came to the table

  • a bright, almost shimmering, white color.

  • The chef had overcooked it.

  • Like twice over.

  • Amazingly, it was still delicious.

  • Who can make a fish taste good

  • after it's been overcooked?

  • I can't,

  • but this guy can.

  • Let's call him Miguel --

  • actually his name is Miguel.

  • (Laughter)

  • And no, he didn't cook the fish, and he's not a chef,

  • at least in the way that you and I understand it.

  • He's a biologist

  • at Veta La Palma.

  • It's a fish farm in the southwestern corner of Spain.

  • It's at the tip of the Guadalquivir river.

  • Until the 1980s,

  • the farm was in the hands of the Argentinians.

  • They raised beef cattle

  • on what was essentially wetlands.

  • They did it by draining the land.

  • They built this intricate series of canals,

  • and they pushed water off the land and out into the river.

  • Well, they couldn't make it work,

  • not economically.

  • And ecologically, it was a disaster.

  • It killed like 90 percent of the birds,

  • which, for this place, is a lot of birds.

  • And so in 1982,

  • a Spanish company with an environmental conscience

  • purchased the land.

  • What did they do?

  • They reversed the flow of water.

  • They literally flipped the switch.

  • Instead of pushing water out,

  • they used the channels to pull water back in.

  • They flooded the canals.

  • They created a 27,000-acre fish farm --

  • bass, mullet,

  • shrimp, eel --

  • and in the process, Miguel and this company

  • completely reversed the ecological destruction.

  • The farm's incredible.

  • I mean, you've never seen anything like this.

  • You stare out at a horizon

  • that is a million miles away,

  • and all you see are flooded canals

  • and this thick, rich marshland.

  • I was there not long ago with Miguel.

  • He's an amazing guy,

  • like three parts Charles Darwin and one part Crocodile Dundee.

  • (Laughter)

  • Okay? There we are slogging through the wetlands,

  • and I'm panting and sweating, got mud up to my knees,

  • and Miguel's calmly conducting a biology lecture.

  • Here, he's pointing out a rare Black-shouldered Kite.

  • Now, he's mentioning the mineral needs of phytoplankton.

  • And here, here he sees a grouping pattern

  • that reminds him of the Tanzanian Giraffe.

  • It turns out, Miguel spent the better part of his career

  • in the Mikumi National Park in Africa.

  • I asked him how he became

  • such an expert on fish.

  • He said, "Fish? I didn't know anything about fish.

  • I'm an expert in relationships."

  • And then he's off, launching into more talk

  • about rare birds and algaes

  • and strange aquatic plants.

  • And don't get me wrong, that was really fascinating, you know,

  • the biotic community unplugged, kind of thing.

  • It's great, but I was in love.

  • And my head was swooning over that

  • overcooked piece of delicious fish I had the night before.

  • So I interrupted him. I said,

  • "Miguel, what makes your fish taste so good?"

  • He pointed at the algae.

  • "I know, dude, the algae, the phytoplankton,

  • the relationships: It's amazing.

  • But what are your fish eating?

  • What's the feed conversion ratio?"

  • Well, he goes on to tell me

  • it's such a rich system

  • that the fish are eating what they'd be eating in the wild.

  • The plant biomass, the phytoplankton,

  • the zooplankton, it's what feeds the fish.

  • The system is so healthy,

  • it's totally self-renewing.

  • There is no feed.

  • Ever heard of a farm that doesn't feed its animals?

  • Later that day, I was driving around this property with Miguel,

  • and I asked him, I said, "For a place that seems so natural,

  • unlike like any farm I'd ever been at,

  • how do you measure success?"

  • At that moment, it was as if

  • a film director called for a set change.

  • And we rounded the corner

  • and saw the most amazing sight:

  • thousands and thousands of pink flamingos,

  • a literal pink carpet for as far as you could see.

  • "That's success," he said.

  • "Look at their bellies, pink.

  • They're feasting."

  • Feasting? I was totally confused.

  • I said, "Miguel, aren't they feasting on your fish?"

  • (Laughter)

  • "Yes," he said.

  • (Laughter)

  • "We lose 20 percent of our fish

  • and fish eggs to birds.

  • Well, last year, this property

  • had 600,000 birds on it,

  • more than 250 different species.

  • It's become, today, the largest

  • and one of the most important

  • private bird sanctuaries in all of Europe."

  • I said, "Miguel, isn't a thriving bird population

  • like the last thing you want on a fish farm?"

  • (Laughter)

  • He shook his head, no.

  • He said, "We farm extensively,

  • not intensively.

  • This is an ecological network.

  • The flamingos eat the shrimp.

  • The shrimp eat the phytoplankton.

  • So the pinker the belly,

  • the better the system."

  • Okay, so let's review:

  • a farm that doesn't feed its animals,

  • and a farm that measures its success

  • on the health of its predators.

  • A fish farm, but also a bird sanctuary.

  • Oh, and by the way, those flamingos,

  • they shouldn't even be there in the first place.

  • They brood in a town

  • 150 miles away,

  • where the soil conditions

  • are better for building nests.

  • Every morning, they fly

  • 150 miles into the farm.

  • And every evening, they fly 150 miles back.

  • (Laughter)

  • They do that because they're able to follow

  • the broken white line

  • of highway A92.

  • (Laughter)

  • No kidding.

  • I was imagining a "March of the Penguins" thing,