By Jennifer 8. Lee | January 10, 2008
Elizabeth Dwoskin has a fascinating article this week in the Village Voice about New York State inspectors going around to Chinese restaurants fish tanks looking for illegally undersized tautog fish. (It’s illegal to catch one less than 14 inches long, but small fish are often considered more tender by the Chinese diners).
Here are some key graphs:
Two decades ago, the tautog, or black fish, was hardly a popular fish, but it has become one of the most expensive and frequently harvested fish in the region. At the same time, there has been a drastic decline in many fish populations across the Atlantic Coast. The shortage has leftfishermanâ€”including lobstermen on the Long Island Soundâ€”scrambling to regain their livelihoods.
Today, live tautog can fetch more than $10 per pound in Chinatown, making it one of the five most expensive fish, says LaCroix. In the early 1980s, the fish went for “next to nothing,” says Christopher Vonderwiedt, a project coordinator for the commission.
But one of the factors that is creating this demand for fish is the Chinese adoration of fresh seafood, as in was-alive-until-you-picked-it-out-in-the-tank live seafood. My friends in China are like, why do Americans like their fish cutup into anonymous little patties?
And the Americans are like, why do the Chinese like their fish whole — with eyeballs and bones.
From the Chinese perspective, the fish meat near the bones are the most tender. From the American perspective, those bones get stuck in your teeth and throat.
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