SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Over the next few weeks, we're going to meet a series of people who are pursuing the American dream through the most basic part of life, food. Today we're going to meet a fisherman in Massachusetts, a place where people once made a living fishing cod. Well, that fish has been disappearing, including in Cape Cod. But the seas aren't depleted. Different fish are still plentiful.
NPR's Allison Aubrey is going to tell us about a man who's making a living catching and selling a fish that a lot of us haven't heard about. Allison, thanks so much for being with us.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.
SIMON: Before we meet any people...
SIMON: I want you to introduce me to this fish you've brought into the studio.
AUBREY: OK. I have brought in a prop here. This is a dogfish. Say hello to the dogfish (laughter).
SIMON: (Imitating dog barking).
AUBREY: This is a long, spiky-looking thing.
AUBREY: Have you ever seen anything like it?
SIMON: Only in my nightmares.
SIMON: Let me just say that, offhand, it's not an attractive looking fish, right?
AUBREY: Well, it's actually a shark. And I was actually with a fisherman in Cape Cod, Mass., who is now fishing these.
JAMIE ELDREDGE: I'm Jamie Eldredge. I'm captain of the fishing vessel Yellow Bird. And we're at the Chatham fish pier.
AUBREY: So Jamie is this really hearty soul. He's been doing this for decades. He's a real fixture in the community. And this is his story. When the cod fishery started to go south, he realized, hey, I'm going to have to find another livelihood. He thought, I still have a mortgage on this boat. So he says he grew up seeing these dogfish. They're really plentiful.
ELDREDGE: It's what we used to call a trash fish - and throw them back or knock them off. And now we're fishing on them for a living.
AUBREY: Are you happy with fishing dogfish?
ELDREDGE: Very happy. Yeah. I enjoy being out on the water.
AUBREY: Now, the day that I went out with him, he caught 6,000 pounds of these fish in just a few hours.
SIMON: But, Allison, I have never seen anything labeled dogfish for sale in a market.
AUBREY: Right. The reason that Jamie can make a living doing this is because there is an export market. The Brits import dogfish. They turn it into fish and chips. The French buy dogfish. They make bouillabaisse. They call it saumonette. It's just Americans have never heard of it.
SIMON: So if you called it, like, mid-Atlantic thistlefish (ph)...
SIMON: ...We might give it a try.
AUBREY: Well, you know what? I don't think it's just a naming problem. Americans are not very adventurous when it comes to fish. We typically like to just buy tuna, tilapia and shrimp. And most of what we buy - 90 percent of what we eat is imported. And most of what's being caught off our shores is being exported. And a lot of people are scratching their heads, saying, this swap doesn't make any sense at all.
SIMON: Well, I mean, it would help if the fish tasted good.
AUBREY: Would you like to taste it?
SIMON: I think I have to...
AUBREY: (Laughter) OK. All right.
SIMON: ...After that kind of introduction.
AUBREY: Well, I will tell you that this has been...
SIMON: No, no. Just - you know, just seeing it - you have prepared - or we should say NPR's test kitchens have prepared...
AUBREY: That's right. The folks down at Seasons Culinary down in Sound Bites Cafe have actually taken these filets of dog fish. And they've sauteed them in a little lemon-caper-butter sauce. I've got a little fillet for you here.
SIMON: Which will be very nice because I actually told you that I had a taste for capers.
AUBREY: (Laughter) You did.
SIMON: Thank you very much.
AUBREY: I'm spoiling you here.
SIMON: Thank you.
AUBREY: I'm just going to drizzle a little bit of this lemon-caper-butter sauce on here for you.
SIMON: You know, this looks good.
AUBREY: Go right ahead.
SIMON: Mmm. You know, I got to say this is good.
AUBREY: You like it.
SIMON: It's fleshy. It's, you know...
AUBREY: It's flaky like other white fish.
SIMON: A little flakier than swordfish, for example, but actually probably a little firmer than sea bass. It's good. I like it.
AUBREY: You know, as you give that a taste, think of it this way. When I went to Cape Cod, what I heard from the fishermen, from the advocates in this sort of sustainable fishing community was this. They say, look. We know where this fish is coming from. We know how it's produced.
Our government now sets quotas so that fish are not overfished in the U.S. - and that this is the direction that we should be going in for sort of long-term viability. One of the advocates in Cape Cod said, look. If we want these fishing communities to be here 20 years from now, Americans should be buying fish that's caught off our own shores.
SIMON: Could you actually buy this?
AUBREY: Well, you can't walk into a, you know, Safeway or Harris Teeter. But the people who are promoting dogfish and other fish that are fished off our shores are saying, we need to get this next generation of eaters. And you know what they've arrived at? College campuses. So UMass Amherst has started serving dogfish in their cafeteria. The day I went they were making dogfish tacos. They were making an Asian flash fry with this wasabi sauce. I interviewed a bunch of students. And they love it. They love the idea that it's local. They love the idea that it's sustainable.
AUBREY: So I think that might be the way that these advocates go when they try to build a market for dogfish.
SIMON: There's a collaboration with PBS that we ought to know about, right?
AUBREY: This whole reporting project is part of a collaboration I'm doing with the PBS NewsHour. So we have pictures of Jamie, his fishing vessel. You can meet some of the students at UMass Amherst who are trying this. So check it out.
SIMON: NPR's Allison Aubrey, thanks very much for being with us.
AUBREY: Thanks so much, Scott.
SIMON: And bon appetit, by the way.
AUBREY: Oh, yes. Bon appetit. I'm glad you enjoy it.