Sunday, December 11, 2005

Water horrors—collateral damage

Will that be red or white wine with your sludge?—The collateral damage to Hurricane Katrina knows no limits. I know people are homeless and more than 1,000 died, but one must add to the tragedy. The wine cellar at Brennan’s Restaurant, one of the best in the world, is gone. Vinegar. Slurry. Think of 35,000 bottles, including some of the best wines in the world (oh, how about a 1870 Lafite Rothschild?) broiling in the heat of August. When the electricity went out, the wine cellar—two floors of the circa 1795 building—was at the mercy of the heat. The wine was usually kept at 58 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature rose to 120 with the power out, cooking the stuff, or at best making cooking wine out of it. Brennan’s is just one of almost a dozen restaurants owned by the Brennan family, all of which are probably down for months. No more Bananas Foster. (They have branches and I was a denizen of the Houston shop during the space program). All are a major loss, but the wine cellar at the flagship is a serious stuff.

We’re doing swordfish today so you can throw the damned tuna out—No doubt Brennan’s and the other sea food restaurants get their catch as the result of the modern fishing industry, which brings us to more collateral damage. According to a report from U.S. and Canadian scientists, the modern fishing industry is amazingly inefficient and wasteful. They regularly toss out 22% of what they catch in their nets. In an article published in the journal Fish and Fisheries, they say the Gulf of Mexico has the worst fishermen. The problem is that the shrimp nets, which are dragged across the ocean floor, scoop up tons of what is called bycatch, about a billion pounds of it, which is then dumped back into the water. They discard four times as many fish as they keep. In one of the great analogies of the week, one of the scientists said the bycatch would fill every bathtub in a city of 1.5 million people. How he figured that, I don’t know, but it is impressive. Besides noncommercial species (jelly fish, for instance) the bycatch includes whatever the boats were not out to get. The figures are for 2002 and representatives of the fishing industry say they are doing better now, but it’s as good as it’s going to get.

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