Once there was a fish, a big, ugly thing. One with freckles and stripes, a spiny finned king.
He lived in warm water, right next to a reef. He gulped all of his food without using his teeth.
One day, a man dragged the big fish to the shore, made the fish into dinner and found so much more. The big, ugly fish had white flesh and mild flavor. Be it broiled or fried, it was fish to be savored. This fish, big and ugly, was quite a surprise. The big, ugly fish was pretty inside.
The man told a chef, who brought pans and brought spices. He brought ovens and grills and brought kitchen devices. One forkful, one bite said this fish was a keeper. What was this fish? The man said, “It’s a grouper.”
As sometimes does happen, the fish became trendy. Too many hooks found their mouths, many rods became bendy. Anglers took way too much grouper out of the sea. Rules soon were required so they could swim free.
Confused and hungry, grouper lovers were sad. It’s no fun to eat fish when eating is bad.
“But wait!” someone said. “There are more fish in the sea! Let’s eat those fine fish and let poor groupers be!”
Some call them a “bycatch,” while some label them “trash fish.” They show up in nets and on hooks meant for other fish.
Many fishermen throw those dead fish overboard. Why not bring those back home to stores? They cost less to catch and there are, oh, so many. There are triggerfish and hogfish and amberjacks aplenty.
Soon one voice was many. The idea quickly spread. There were other ugly fish fine for plates and for bread.
Chef Steve Phelps said, “We’ll cook porgy freshly hauled from a boat.” His restaurant, Indigenous, is in Sarasota.
Chef Steve belongs to the group Chefs Collaborative. The group is against eating fish that are non-native. They want there to be many fish in the sea. Eating all of one type is as bad as can be.
Steve called friends in town for a dinner to cook. “Make trash fish for supper and throw out the book!”
Louie’s Modern would host. “We’ll invite all our friends! We’ll raise money for fish, because fish are our friends!” Steve’s amberjack, a Japanese chef might partake. Okonomiyaki became fish pancake.
Darwin Santa Maria of Darwin’s on 4th made plates of ceviche for everyone’s fork.
Christian Hershman of State Street steamed porgy in bags. Paired with sweet potato dumplings, he had much room to brag.
Pan-roasted porgy made their taste buds dance, thanks to Randall Roulette of Owen’s Fish Camp.
Keith Dougherty and James Baselici of Louies Modern served quick-poached mangrove snapper moqueca — which rhymes with almost nothing you can print in a family paper.
The thing to remember was this was no dare. Overfishing’s a danger we all should beware.
The fish aren’t the problem; it’s our appetite. Eating fish is just fine when the fishing’s done right.
A future meal could sadly be fishless in time. That would be tragic. Far worse than these rhymes.