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'Googled': Biography Of A Company, And An Age

Media critic Ken Auletta tracks the development of Google from a search engine to the provider of all things Internet in his new book Googled: The End of the World as We Know It.

35:30

Other segments from the episode on November 2, 2009

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 2, 2009: Interview with Ken Auletta; Interview with Daniel Pauly.

Transcript

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'Googled': Biography Of A Company, And An Age

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

The planet has been Googled, writes Ken Auletta in his new book,
"Googled." He said Google has eliminated barriers to finding information
and knowledge, and its way of building its business, making it free and
attracting users before figuring out a way to make money, has become the
template for Web startups. But, says Auletta, for the many companies
Google has encroached on - such as magazines, newspapers and book
publishers - Google can be perceived as the evil empire. Any company
with Google's power needs to be scrutinized, says Auletta, and that's
what he's done in his book.

The subjects of his earlier books include how the TV networks lost their
way and Microsoft and its enemies. He writes the “Annals of
Communications” column for the New Yorker.

Ken Auletta, welcome to FRESH AIR. Now, Google was first known as a
search engine. Give us a sense of the many ways that Google has expanded
beyond that.

Mr. KEN AULETTA (Author, "Googled: The End of the World as We Know It"):
Well, what's happened is that Google expanded its definition of search.
It began as searching text, and you got these instantaneous answers, and
they were wonderful, and they became a very popular search engine. But
they made no money. And by 2001, they figured out a way to do ads - to
make money on ads. And today, in fact, they generate $22 billion worth
of advertising revenues, over $4 billion worth of profits.

But as they got into selling ads, they realized, well, search could be –
the definition of search could be expanded to include search
advertising. And why can't we do a more efficient job of marrying the
advertiser with the people who want to see the advertising, and charge
them only when people click and rather than charging them on a shotgun
approach, which is the way it's done in traditional media.

And then they said, well, why can't we expand search to books? So why
don't we digitize all the books in the world? And isn't that a search
function, people searching books? Well, of course it is. It's a
wonderful search function. And then when they brought aboard YouTube,
they said, well, why can't we search television and put television on
YouTube? And telephones and Microsoft and all these other businesses
that they began to bump into, were really, in their mind, an extension
of search and an extension of the basic notion of an engineer, certainly
a Google engineer, which is we assume that the way the world works now,
the traditional media world, is inefficient, and so we're going to ask
why. Why not be more efficient, and why can't we do it more cheaply?

And in fact, the free model that Google has created here, is one that's
very popular with consumers but obviously traditional media businesses
tremendously.

GROSS: Now, let me get back to the basic thing, the basic function that
Google started with and that it still is so good at - and that is being
a search engine. There's always rumors about how searches are
prioritized - the results are prioritized. Like who gets that top
listing, who determines it? And there's always rumors like do you pay to
get a better placement in the search that comes up?

And I know on the day of the IPO, when Google went public, they said
they will not accept money for search results, ranking or inclusion. How
does Google decide who gets those top 10 entries or those top five
entries that come up when you do a search?

Mr. AULETTA: Google believes in transparency, but they're not
transparent about what's in that black box of search. We don't know, no
outsider knows, how Google comes up with what they call page rank -
which is why a listing is at the top, or second place, or third place or
100th place when you do a search.

We don't know. What we do know is this: A, as you said, Google does not
allow, does not charge for placement - so no one is paying to get placed
higher up on that search; B, we know that Google, in part, makes a
decision based on the number of people who have visited that Web site.
So the popularity of a Web site boosts its ability to reach higher on
the search results. But that alone does not determine it.

They then have other criteria. For instance, I know - and I asked them
about this, and they confirmed it - that if an article appears, say, in
a credible publication like the New York Times, it tends to be given
some weight in that algorithm that Google's black box contains. But how
much weight, we don't know; and what other weights they assign to other
values, we don't know.

GROSS: Now, is that algorithm a secret because they don't want people
playing it, in other words, like, doing what they know will get them a
higher placement; or is the algorithm secret because it's valuable
information, and they don't want anybody else to be able to duplicate
what they do?

Mr. AULETTA: Both reasons. The algorithm is – they're very concerned
that if the algorithm were public, people would game the system, as you
suggest. They're also very concerned that competitors not get a hold of
it. And Google has a market share of two-thirds of search in the United
States and almost 70 percent in the world. They don't want to give up
that lead, and they're afraid they would give it up if people knew their
secret sauce.

GROSS: Is it hypocritical that Google wants to make everybody else's
information free but is so protective of their own formulas?

Mr. AULETTA: Of course. Google is a company, it's a brilliant company,
and they've done extraordinary things, but they're full of
contradictions, which I try to outline and explain in my book, and
that's just one of them. I mean, they are not transparent.

If you – when you're on the Google campuses – I lived there for a good
bit of time over two and a half years and had access to its employees -
and one of the things you realize, if you ask a question - how many
people are employed who are of Indian descent at Google, what do you pay
engineers, simple questions like that - you may as well be talking to
the CIA about how many undercover operatives they have. I mean, they're
very secretive.

GROSS: Google has had a lot of, like, advertising breakthroughs that
have been very threatening to the broadcast and print media, but very
successful for Google. What do you know about their formula for deciding
how to put – how to match advertisers to searches?

Mr. AULETTA: What they do is – this is actually an inventive thing that
they did. They started… Google started as a company in a garage in 1998,
and for the first three and a half years, they made no money. And their
investment bankers were very concerned about this and were very
agitated. And Google believed that if you build a good search engine,
and you got a lot of traffic, you would figure out a way to make money
off of it. And one of the ways they figured out how to make money, they
came up with what's called a Vickrey auction system. They copied a
Vickrey auction system, and it basically said look, what if we run
little ads on the right-hand side of the page, like the gray box you see
when you do a Google search, and the advertiser who pays the most for an
ad would be ranked higher.

So if, for instance, you're doing a search on sneakers, the bet that
Google made is that New Balance and Adidas and Nike would want to
advertise. Well, what Adidas and Nike and New Balance and the other
sneaker manufacturers do - what they do is they say on the following
search words for sneakers, if someone wants do a search for sneakers, if
someone wants to do a search for basketball or football or basketball
courts or playgrounds - we would like to bid on those words, and we will
bid the following amount anytime someone clicks on that search word.

And let's say - let's say that Nike bids 25 cents a search word, right?
And let's say that New Balance bids 50 cents. Well, New Balance wins,
right? They had the highest bid. But the Vickrey auction thing – system
- and the way – why it pleased advertisers so much, is that New Balance
only winds up paying a penny more than the second-highest bid. So
instead of paying 50 cents, they're paying 26 cents. And so on down the
line. And the second-place person, Nike, pays only a penny more than the
third place - and so on down the line.

So this was very attractive to advertisers. Also attractive to them is
they didn't have to pay – if you didn't open up one of those search
boxes on the right-hand side – I rarely do – you didn't have to pay for
the ad. But if you clicked on it, that's when the advertiser would pay.

GROSS: Now, the issue of invasion of privacy comes up with the email
service, Gmail, that Google runs, where there are ads keyed to the
email. Would you explain how that works?

Mr. AULETTA: Well, the way it works is that when you type an email
message, and let's say you put the word in – shoes - right? You may get
a little ad that'll pop up on the side and say, you know, Johnson &
Johnson has a shoe sale not far from where you live, if you're
interested in shoes.

Now, no one is sitting there – a human is not sitting there at Google
saying Ken just typed in shoes, let's give him - shoot an ad at him.
It's all done electronically. So no human eyes are looking at this. On
the other hand, it means that Google has a repository of information
about you they're collecting, and that opens the question of possible
future abuse - which is why the issue of privacy, like the issue of
copyright or the issue of concentration of power, are three issues that
surface throughout my book and one of the reasons why the government is
looking closely at that.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Ken Auletta. He covers the
media for the New Yorker magazine. His new book is called "Googled: The
End of the World as We Know It." Let's take a short break here, and then
we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Ken Auletta, and he covers
the media for the New Yorker magazine. He has a new book called
"Googled: The End of the World as We Know It," and it's, well, about
Google.

One of the things Google is famous for now is its mapping system. Google
Maps a lot of people turn to when they're driving to – driving or
walking to a location that they're not familiar with. And now Google is
also adding its own GPS system to a Smartphone that uses Google's
software, and you'll only be able to use this GPS phone system on phones
that use Google's software. What is their mapping system? How did they,
like, map as much as they have?

Mr. AULETTA: Well, they have over 20,000 employees, and half of them are
engineers, and they – Google Maps, Google Earth are wonderful services.
They're free, and you can see many parts of the world and get directions
to locations you're driving to or walking to; and you can see pictures,
video of these locations. You can check out traffic patterns.

GPS is in every Smartphone, and it's not just Google that has GPS. The
phone company has GPS in the hardware. And what it does is allow you to
locate where you are and use that to navigate. But one of the issues
that Google is trying to deal with here - and it's a very fundamental
one, and it's one that not just Google is trying to deal with but the
phone companies and the advertising community is trying to deal with -
and that is how do you make money on a cell phone? How do you get
advertising into that Smartphone, into that cell phone?

So they have – what they've begun to do - and the advertising community
is talking to Google about this and the phone companies about this, and
everyone is talking about this - let's stop thinking of it as
traditional advertising, let's think of it as a service; and with GPS,
we can give you more services.

So Google Earth or Google Maps is really a service, and if they could
figure out a way to pay for it or charge somehow - either with
advertising or with some kind of micro-payment system - then it becomes
a way for the phone companies to make money and for Google to make money
off what is now something that's free.

But this is a profound change of thinking, and it's one that emanates
not just from Google but from the phone company and from a lot of other
– and from advertisers, who are saying how do we – this is the fastest-
growing digital instrument we have, a handheld device - how do we make
money off of it? How do we get advertising into it? And the GPS is
really a first public-fired shot in this larger issue of how do we think
of it not as advertising but a service. That is to say, you're walking,
Terry, by a mall in Philadelphia, and they know you happen to frequent
this particular store because they have your records, right, and you
leave a digital footprint of everything you do. And you've been to this
store, it's on your credit card, and the phone company has a lot of that
information - what you've called, what you've paid for maybe, or your
cable company has that - and they say, excuse me, Terry, but we know
you're walking by one of your favorite stores. Would you like to go in?
They have a sale on some of your favorite items today.

And you walk in, or you're walking by, and they say you've been to this
restaurant a lot - and this is a little text message that may come up -
there are seats available if you'd like to come to lunch, and just press
this button. Someone's going to pay for that, but that's a service.
They're thinking of that as a service that you would find attractive as
a consumer.

GROSS: Google has its street-view system in which you can actually see,
you know, whatever destination you ask for, and you know, get a picture
of the block, the corner, the building. How has it managed to do that
street mapping that it has?

Mr. AULETTA: Google believes in investment. They don't pay dividends to
shareholders. They announced right from the start when they went public
in 2004 they would not pay dividends and that they would invest in the
long-term business success of Google and not be concerned, as so much of
Wall Street is, with short-term profitability.

It's one of the great attractions of this company - they think long
term. And one of the things they've done is they invest a lot of money -
about $3 billion a year - in capital investment. And included in that
capital investment are all these servers that will provide cloud
computing and that speed up your search, but also their ability to map
streets and the world. And they believe that long term, this investment
- even though it makes no money, it costs them, now - long term they
believe it will make money for Google, and their idea of using GPS tied
in with Google Maps and Google Earth, and thinking of selling
advertising not as advertising ads that you see but as a kind of a
service, is very consistent with that long-term view that they've
adopted.

GROSS: One of Google's innovations is a cloud computing system. Can you
just briefly describe what that is?

Mr. AULETTA: It's – a cloud is basically a server. It's a computer that
doesn't sit up in the sky, but actually sits in a physical plant
somewhere. And Google has dozens of these plants located around the
world, and they're huge, sometimes the size of three football fields.
And they're air-conditioned, and they consume a tremendous amount of
energy, and they're populated by thousands, hundreds of thousands of
computers, and those computers are servers, and they store and receive
and send information.

For instance, if you think of your email, whatever email system you use,
that's cloud computing. You're – basically no matter where you are, if
you move from city to city, from your home to outdoors, you can access
that email because it's in a server somewhere, and they store that
information of yours and keep it until you delete it.

And that's really cloud computing. So what Google has begun to do, and
this is really aimed at Microsoft - but not just at Microsoft, it's also
aimed at others who do cloud computing; like Amazon and like Apple and
like Sun Microsystems and like Oracle - what they're doing is saying,
instead of buying package software, which is expensive, and putting it
in your computer, wouldn't you rather have the portability of cloud
computing, which is much cheaper and maybe ever free – right now it is
free with Google – and you can store all your information, not just your
email, but you can store your word processing needs and your
spreadsheets in our cloud and access it from any device you have - be it
your laptop or your desktop or your handheld computer. And wouldn't that
be wonderful? It gives you that kind of portability.

What it doesn't give you is the security of - if you go down, as Google,
as Gmail, Google's Gmail has gone down a couple times, as Google's
YouTube went down at least once. If it goes down, then you lose that
system, but on the other hand, if your computer crashes, you lose your
software until you can get your computer back up.

GROSS: The city of L.A. just announced that it's switching its email
system to Google's Gmail, which is a cloud system. So what do you think
are the potential advantages and disadvantages for a major city like
L.A. in going to cloud computing for its email?

Mr. AULETTA: Well, I'm sure what Google is – the sales pitch would be
that we can do this much more cheaply. L.A., you can save money by doing
this, and that's what Google is saying to companies. Why buy this
expensive software from Microsoft and other software companies like
Oracle? Why do you have an expensive IT department? Why don't you just
outsource your computing to us, and we'll charge you a fee for it, but
we're like your consultants? We'll be your experts, and you'll save
money by doing that? And that is, Google hopes, a real growth business
for them.

They're not the only ones doing this. IBM is doing this, and Amazon is
doing this. So there are other companies who are – and Microsoft is now
going to try and do it - because they see themselves threatened, as
well.

That's the plus. It's a potential cost-savings for companies and for
governments. The minus is: do you trust Google? Do you want to store
that information with a company? Will they guard your secrets, or will
they share them with advertisers or with someone else? That's – Google
says they won't - but that's the question. And Google can say they won't
do that all they want, and say it's not logical for us to do it because
we would undermine the trust we need to build this business - and that's
true logically. But fears are not always logical. And Google is not so
good at understanding people's fears and not so good at understanding
why people would fear such a concentration of power in the hands of one
company.

GROSS: Ken Auletta will be back in the second half of the show. His new
book is called "Googled." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross, back with Ken Auletta, author
of the new book "Googled: The End of the World as We Know It." It
describes the ways in which Google has changed how we get information,
shop and compute, helping consumers, creating new business models, but
also hurting a lot of industries. Auletta writes about old and new media
for The New Yorker.

GROSS: Let's talk a little bit about Google and copyright controversies.
Let's start with newspapers. Google has its own news aggregation
service. What are the objections of some newspapers and wire services to
how Google uses their material?

Mr. AULETTA: Well, what happens is that Google has two ways of using
their material. One is Google News, as you mentioned, which is -
aggregates roughly 5,000 newspapers and magazines from around the world.
And if you go and you go on to Google News and it gives you the latest
news you want to read, and you click on a story you’re interested in,
the latest event in Pakistan today, let’s say. You click on that and you
get basically two or three lines with a link to the newspaper or the
magazine in which the story appeared. You click on that, and it actually
takes you to the newspaper or magazine.

Google then claims, well, this is great for the newspaper or magazine,
because we're increasing your circulation. We're introducing many more
people to your stories and you can sell ads on your site off of the
traffic we send you. The newspapers or magazines shoot back, wait a
second. You know, what it means is that people don’t have to read our
newspapers. They can go to Google News and read articles they want in
that. They can cherry pick articles they want in our newspapers, A, and
B, the ads we - you give us more traffic, but we can't sell ads at a
very high price online the way we can in a newspaper.

Roughly 10 - you get roughly 10 percent for an ad online, as you would
get in the newspaper. So they say you’re really robbing us of readers
for our newspaper, and therefore, harming our economic justification.

The other way that Google affects newspapers, when you do Google search,
let's say you search for Pakistan today, right? You will get - one of
the high choices you'll get is an article, say, in The New York Times.
Again, you'll see that two or three lines and then a click to The New
York Times, and you’re back to the same issue.

So the newspapers are claiming that what Google is really doing - and
what they really worry about is that Google is letting people read their
information in the newspaper that they charge for, read it for free
online A, and B, make a commodity out of newspapers because people don’t
actually know where they're getting information from and don’t really
care at some point. They just want, you know, they click on whatever it
is that strikes their fancy. They don't say I want to read what The New
York Times said. So newspapers…

GROSS: So the brand becomes Google and not The New York Times.

Mr. AULETTA: Yeah. It does. Absolutely. And so that's why The New York
Times and the Wall Street Journal and a lot of other - the AP and a lot
of newspapers and magazines are saying, wait a second. We may have to
charge for contact and create a firewall. And if they do that, that
means that when you do a search on Google News or you do a search on
Google for an item, those newspapers will be closed to you. You won't be
able to do a search on that.

And the danger for the newspapers and magazines, if they create
firewalls, unless every newspaper and magazine creates a firewall, then
people – then - and if news really is a commodity, then people will get
information from the Christian Science Monitor, which is an online paper
now and only prints one day a week, or the Seattle Times Intelligencer,
which doesn’t print anymore, but it is online. So that - and wire
services. And that's the danger for the newspapers if they create a
firewall.

GROSS: Is it too late to change the model, do you think? Since people -
I mean, a whole generation has grown up thinking things are free on the
Internet and newspapers have been giving it away on the Internet, but
charging for the actual print - the same with magazines. How do you
change a model after it’s established? Do you think it can be done?

Mr. AULETTA: You have to change the culture, and that's harder than
changing a model. The culture is that – is one that expects things free.
And I'm not casting aspersions on that. It's just a reality. That's what
they – they have the habit, that it’s been free. So you’re asking to
change what has become a habit. That is not easy to do.

On the other hand, there is evidence that it can be done, and Apple's
iTunes is a classic piece of evidence in this regard. I mean, the idea
that music - I mean, just think about five years ago, the music
companies were suing their customers on college campuses for what they
called illegally downloading their music. And it was illegal, by the
way. You know, they were breaking the law to do that, but it was so
commonplace that no one thought it was against the law to do it.

Well, Apple comes along and they said we'll charge you only $.99 and you
can pick the music you want. You could listen to a little segment of it
before you buy it, and you could buy individual songs. You don’t have to
get stuck with buying an entire CD for X many more dollars. And it took
off like gangbusters, and it's been a great success for Apple and
something the customers who were used to free music have accepted. So
there are some models that suggest it can be done, but it won't be easy.

GROSS: Google would like to scan and digitize basically all the books in
the world…

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: …and make them available. What is their ultimate goal with their
library system?

Mr. AULETTA: Well, they have several goals. At first, their goal -
stated goal was to - by digitizing all the world's books at, by the way,
a great cost to Google to do that, and no one’s ever done it. And their
estimate is that there are 20 million books in print or have been in
print, published since the beginning of time. And that would be
available to any one who does a search.

Now, as a researcher, as a journalist, as a writer of books, that's
invaluable to me that I could search books. It's like going to a
library, but it's a library in your home. But for the publishing
industry, they originally sued Google, saying it wasn’t so wonderful,
that they were taking their copyrights.

Google came back and said no, this is fair use. We could take a certain
amount of information. And they said no, you’re taking too much. And if
people read what you propose to take, they won't read the book. And that
became a lawsuit, which was then settled, and in the settlement, Google
then advanced some other ideas.

Not only have they agreed to pay roughly $120-some-odd million to
publishers and authors to digitize these books, but in addition to that,
Google announced - and this was not in the original plan - that they’ll
begin selling some books the way Amazon does.

So they’ll be competing with Amazon and selling some books. And, but
they're called often(ph) books, books that you don't know who the
copyright owner is. But there are a couple of million of those, it's
estimated. So Google will be in the bookselling business, as well as the
search business with books.

GROSS: You know what I've been wondering? Google was founded by, from
what I've read, pretty idealistic people who had a sense of, you know, a
pretty visionary sense of what they could do in terms of organizing
information in the digital world, and that they also figured out how
they could make money doing that. But again, they came at it from a, you
know, a reasonably idealistic perspective, and they’ve kept some of
their idealism as they’ve also become this real moneymaker.

What happens when the idealistic people move on for whatever reasons and
other people come in, or when the company's maybe bought by another
company? At some point, the whole idealistic sense could change, and
then you'd have this company that has a huge amount of information about
us, maps of where you live, knowing your purchases because of all the
advertising…

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: …tie-ins that it has, and it can know basically everything about
you. Do you worry about say, Google falls into the hands of people who
aren't so idealistic, then where are we?

Mr. AULETTA: Well, I think we have to worry about that. I don’t think
that's about to happen at Google. First of all, no one could afford to
buy Google. It's worth…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. AULETTA: …too much. Google is an acquirer, not about to be acquired
themselves, A. B, these guys - Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the two
founders of Google - are idealistic and really were. I mean, I did a
book 10 years ago on Microsoft and spent time there and spent time with
Bill Gates. And the difference between them - they're both are now, you
know, an antitrust action was taken against Microsoft, and Microsoft
lost in court and lost on appeal and were deemed to be - practiced
monopoly practices.

And - but the difference, I think, is that Microsoft and Bill Gates were
cold businessmen. They were people who really wanted to kill Netscape,
really wanted to kill Oracle, really wanted to kill Apple and beat them
and dominate. I don’t think Google and its two cofounders are cold
businessmen. I think they're cold engineers.

And the difference is that what an engineer does is just says how do we
make things more efficient? They think they're doing wonderful things.
By the way, Bill Gates thought he was doing wonderful things, but I
think he did have a killer impulse in him. And I don’t think these guys
at Google have that killer impulse.

On the other hand, it doesn’t matter whether they do or not. If they
have so much power and they extend that power over many different
industries and begin to acquire so much information about you - which
they would argue will improve search and improve the ability of
advertisers to target customers, all of which is true.

But on the other hand, it - they retain so much information, and if that
information got in the wrong hands, or if Google decides one day that
its customer’s not the searcher, the customer who's searching, but the
advertiser who’s paying the freight and the advertiser's demanding more
information and Google then is under pressure to provide that
information that they retain, that is cause for concern.

And also, it’s one of the reasons why the government is increasingly
looking at not just regulating Wall Street because of the derivative and
banking scandals that we’ve gone through here, but also because people
are worried about issues like privacy.

People are worried about issues like copyright infringement, and people
are worried about issues like the power of - corporate power of a
Google. So there are lots of interests that converge on Washington and
say hey, government, take a look at this, and Google has to worry about
that.

GROSS: Ken Auletta, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. AULETTA: My pleasure.

GROSS: Ken Auletta is the author of the new book "Googled." And he
writes about old and new media for The New Yorker.

Coming up, why over-fishing is depleting fish we love to eat and how
that relates to changing the name of the slimehead fish to orange
roughy.

This is FRESH AIR.
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The Perils Of Over-Fishing

TERRY GROSS, host:

I eat a lot of fish, so it was like a slap in the face when I saw that
The New Republic's cover story in its environmental issue last month was
headlined, "Aquacalypse Now: The End of Fish."

The author, Daniel Pauly, writes that the fishing industrial complex is
depleting the ocean of many types of fish and hurting the world's
largest ecosystem. He says this approach to fishing is just not
sustainable, and, he warns, don’t be mislead by all the new kinds of
fish that have become popular in the past few years. They're actually an
example of the larger problem.

We invited him to explain. Pauly is a professor at the Fisheries Centre
of the University of British Columbia and the principal investigator of
its Sea Around Us Project.

Daniel Pauly, welcome to FRESH AIR. Now the way you describe it, the
fishing fleet, as they deplete one kind of fish, they just move further
out to where there's different fish.

Professor DANIEL PAULY (Fisheries Centre, University of British
Columbia; Principal Investigator, Sea Around Us Project): Yeah.

GROSS: And they just keep moving further and further out to more remote
territories.

Prof. PAULY: Yeah. In deeper waters, also.

GROSS: Deeper waters. Okay. So - until more and more fish stock are
depleted.

Prof. PAULY: Yup.

GROSS: And eventually, there's going to be no new waters to move to. And
if we're not careful…

Prof. PAULY: Well, it’s not eventually. That was reached at the end of
the ‘80s and the ‘90s, when industrialized fleet had covered the
developing world - the developing countries and moved to the Southern
Hemisphere and all the way to Antarctica. This was, essentially, the
stop, because they couldn’t go further. And then they accelerated the
descent into the abyss. Now we fish at one-two miles depth, and that is
the last frontier of fishing.

GROSS: As you describe it, the fishing industry is now hauling in fish
that they didn’t consider using before, fish that you describe as
smaller and uglier, fish that were never before considered fit for human
consumption, and they’ve renamed the fish to make them sound more
appetizing than the original names made them sound.

Prof. PAULY: Yeah.

GROSS: Give us some examples of what you mean here.

Prof. PAULY: Well, I mentioned the orange roughy, which was originally
called slimehead.

GROSS: Slimehead. Okay. That doesn’t sound appetizing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. PAULY: Hack fish is a jawless thing that is eel-like. What is
known as the Chilean sea bass was originally known as a Patagonian
toothfish. In fact, it’s not only the renaming that you have to do, but
a processing has to be done because you would not buy the fish if you
saw them. Many of them are so ugly that they don’t look like fish. And
so they are - the head is chopped off, for example. Monkfish, for
example, it’s a big mouth with a little body attached to it. And you see
them in the market mainly as a little body, because otherwise, you would
think it’s a monstrous thing that you cannot eat.

GROSS: But I have to say the fish that you mentioned, orange roughy,
Chilean sea bass, monkfish, they’re very tasty.

Prof. PAULY: Oh, no problem with that. In fact, the flesh of very old
animal in the water is strangely - is firm and it’s white, beautiful
fillet. And it’s richly fat. Yeah, this is good fish. The problem is
that this fish are long lived. If you take orange roughy, they reach up
to 150 years. And they…

GROSS: Wow, really?

Prof. PAULY: …yeah. The oldest has been aged that old. And they mature
at 30 years.

GROSS: Wait, wait. I just want to make sure I understand you correctly.
You mean, each fish lives 150 years?

Prof. PAULY: The one that survive can live up to 150 years. And they
become mature, they become adult at 30 years, older than us, twice older
than us. So you are eating something that is older than your grandmother
when you’re eating one.

GROSS: Wow. So, it’s going to take a long time for them to replenish.

Prof. PAULY: That’s right. In fact, orange roughy, I essentially cannot
replenish because this is an – like an old growth forest. You harvest it
and then you have to move on because the replenishment takes too long
for any operation. When the orange roughy craze begun in the ’80s, lots
of countries got into that, New Zealand is the biggest one. And
essentially, they harvest sea mounts. You know, this is underwater
mountains, and at the top of them are full of Orange roughy. And you
fish it out, and then you move on to the next sea mount. So this is
essentially unsustainable, and if an area has been fished out, then
that’s it.

GROSS: Now, what about the fast-food industry? There’s so many, like,
fish sticks and fish nugget kind of products…

Prof. PAULY: Yeah.

GROSS: …sold in the frozen food compartment of the supermarket and also
in fast-food restaurants. What kind of fishes are being used for that?

Prof. PAULY: At present, the Alaska pollock is used in lots of the
products that require white fish. It largely has replaced cod in such
product. But Alaska pollock, as you may know, it’s a biggest single
species fish there is in the world, except for the Peruvian anchovy, of
which more later. And Alaska pollock, the stock is declining now,
rapidly. And there will be a problem with the large firms that produce
this fish, to get white fish of - in sufficient amount or sufficient
quality to maintain this consumption. Also, you must realize that only a
few markets have this fish.

The U.S. imports 80 percent of the fish that is consumed in the U.S., so
the European Union. In the European Union, the fish all - is all
imported from elsewhere. An elsewhere is mainly Africa and the South
Pacific and Antarctica. So, our local waters in Europe and in North
America are not supplying the markets anymore.

GROSS: So, 80 percent of the fish we consume in the United States is
imported?

Prof. PAULY: Yeah.

GROSS: That’s a lot.

Prof. PAULY: Yeah, it is a lot, indeed. And that’s why things that
happen in other countries are very important in connection with fish.

GROSS: So what are some of the ecological changes in the oceans that are
being caused by over-fishing?

Prof. PAULY: Well, essentially, when you fish a big table fish, like a
cod, that cod ate before smaller fish. Now, the smaller fish eat little
bug-like animals, zooplankton, which themselves eat algae, microscopic
algae. So, you affect the whole chain, because when you remove the cod,
the small fish - let’s call him herring - proliferate and eat all the
zooplankton, the little bug-like things. Now, they are not there anymore
to control the algae and the algae bloom and explode.

And you have, in many inshore areas, in many areas, explosions of algae,
harmful algae blooms and changing the visibility and the turbidity of
the water, which are due to change in the food web of the sea. And this
change is induced by changing one element of that chain that cascades
down.

GROSS: Now, you also mention that there’s an overpopulation now of jelly
fish in some areas. Why is that…

Prof. PAULY: That’s…

GROSS: …happening, and what does that mean?

Prof. PAULY: That’s one of the changes it’s brought about, because
essentially, the big fish – lots of the big fish that we have removed
are specialized feeders on jelly fish. For example, the chum salmon in
the Pacific is a specialized feeder on jelly fish. So many species of
turtles or marine turtles feed on jelly fish. As this animal are reduced
and the abundance are reduced, jelly fish don’t have enemies anymore.
The – also, jelly fish feed on the smaller animals, which become more
abundant because the big fish are not there to crop them.

So, the changes in the food web that are induced by fisheries cause a
proliferation of jelly fish, and in some system - in some eco system,
they come to dominate the food web. And jelly fish can eat the eggs and
larvae of fish. So they prevent the establishment - the reestablishment
of the fish.

GROSS: Wow. Are we going to be eating jelly fish anytime soon because
there are so many of them?

Prof. PAULY: Well, that is not a joke. Actually, jelly fish are consumed
in East Asia, but this is only certain species. But there, we can
appreciate some of the stuff that is happening because actually in sushi
restaurants, you can get jelly fish. In Vancouver, I can go to sushi
restaurant and get jelly fish salad. And I suppose that now, with some
of them becoming more abundant, there are jelly fish fisheries in the
United States. In the Gulf of Mexico, there are jelly fish fisheries
that are exporting to China, I guess. And this product will become also
available in processed form, perhaps into the U.S. market. I guess that
will happen.

GROSS: My guest is Daniel Pauly, a professor at the Fisheries Centre of
the University of British Columbia and the principal investigator of its
Sea Around Us Project. We’ll talk more about the consequences of over-
fishing after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guest is Daniel Pauly, and he’s the
principal investigator of the Sea Around Us Project at the University of
British Columbia in Vancouver, where he’s also a professor at the
Fisheries Centre. Let’s talk a little bit about how we got to this
point. What is it about the way the fisheries catch fish now that have
led to such a grand depletion of fish stock?

Prof. PAULY: Because we have in our minds that - fisheries as a romantic
activities, the bearded fishers that go out and risk his life - and
that’s very true - to go out and - in the storms and stuff. But this
romantic vision of fisheries is not realistic. This is more a floating
factory with underpaid workers who use technology that was developed to
fight wars, high technology, that has deployed in a war-like fashion
against fish. The technology we use now to locate fish and to catch them
- especially to locate them - is technology that was developed to find
submarines in the Cold War and in the hot wars in World War II.

Sonars, underwater sounding device, now various forms of geo-
positioning, GPS, all of these things allow us to locate ourselves
relative to the fish with high precision. And so, a boat nowadays is
full – a fishing boat, a modern fishing boat is full of electronic to
the extent that boggles the mind. It’s like a spaceship, almost, like on
the Enterprise. And because it has so much electronic, it becomes very
efficient. If you compare it with a boat 100 years ago that had a
similar engine, it is 10 times more effective in catching because the
searching time is reduced to almost nothing. So, the reality what we
have is floating factories which go with military precision to the place
where the fish are and remove them.

GROSS: And what do they remove them with? What do they fish with?

Prof. PAULY: One of the most devastating means of catching fish is with
a troll, a bottom troll, that is a big pocket, a big bag that will drag
behind the boat that has an opening in the biggest boat where you could
put six jumbo jets besides each other. That’s how big the bag is. And
it’s dragged at the bottom of the sea, and it takes everything that is
in there, everything including the bottom animals that form reefs and so
on. Everything is dragged. I’ve been on such vessel myself when I was a
student of fisheries. And it is brought up to the - on deck. And then
the fish that you want is kept, and the other ones are rejected. They’re
simply thrown overboard.

And I had been operating like this on a German vessel that was fishing
cod of Canada in ’73 when I was a student. And that’s essentially a form
of fishing that had nothing to do with what we think fishery are.

GROSS: So, you’re saying that this kind of fishing is kind of like
cleansing the ocean of fish. I mean…

Prof. PAULY: Yeah.

GROSS: …a lot of fish are thrown back, but, like, everything alive
that’s in there is going to come up through the nets…

Prof. PAULY: Is thrown in there…

GROSS: …in the area where that’s being trolled and…

Prof. PAULY: Yeah.

GROSS: …yeah. So, it’s easy to see how it would be possible for the
(unintelligible)…

Prof. PAULY: Entire areas are being transformed from, if you like, from
forest to plowed field.

GROSS: Tomorrow, we’ll talk with Daniel Pauly about possible solutions
to the problems of over-fishing, and we’ll hear his recommendations of
what fish to eat. Pauly is a professor at the fishery center of the
University of British Columbia and the principal investigator of its Sea
Around Us Project. He wrote the cover story of the New Republic’s
environmental issue last month. It was titled, “Aquacalypse Now: The End
of Fish.”

You can download Podcasts of our show on our Web site, freshair.npr.org.
And you can follow us on Twitter @nprfreshair.
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