Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Rabbi Goldberg Speaking at Rutgers Hillel Tomorrow

For those of you in New Brunswick, NJ, Rabbi Chaim Goldberg will be taking his scaled friends to the Hillel House at Rutgers for a pre-sushi making lecture on kosher fish. Go Scarlet Knights!!!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Global Warming's Fish-Gender Effect

A small increase in water temperature among sensitive fish like the South American pejerrey can result in a population that is 98% male
Cousseau, B. and Perrotta, R.G. /
(See original article at
Once scientists began studying the impact of global warming on everything from tourism to asthma, it was only a matter of time before they got around to sex. Now two biologists at Spain's Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) have done just that, at least when it comes to fish.

You may have missed it in biology class, but in some finned species, like the Atlantic silverside — as well as in many reptiles — sex is determined not by genetics but by temperature: the undifferentiated embryo develops testes or ovaries on the basis of whichever option conveys evolutionary advantages for that particular environment. Now, in a study published in the July 30 edition of the scientific journal Public Library of Science, Natalia Ospina-Alvarez and Francesc Piferrer have gone a little further in explaining how that mechanism works. In laboratory tests, they have demonstrated that higher water temperatures result in more male fish.

"We found that in fish that do have temperature-dependent sex determination [TSD], a rise in water temperature of just 1.5 degrees Celsius can change the male-to-female ratio from 1:1 to 3:1," says Piferrer, the study's co-author. In especially sensitive fish, a greater increase can throw the balance even more out of whack. Ospina-Alvarez and Piferrer have found that in the South American pejerrey, for example, an increase of 4 degrees Celsius can result in a population that is 98% male.

What makes these findings especially troubling, of course, is that the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that ocean-water temperatures are likely to rise by 1.5 degrees over the course of this century — and they may even go up a few degrees more. "If climate change really does result in a rise of 4 degrees, which is the maximum the IPCC predicts, and if species can't adapt in time or migrate, then in the most sensitive cases of TSD, we're looking at extinction," says Piferrer.

Most research into fish sex determination has been done in the lab (for obvious reasons), but the pejerrey is one of the few species that scientists have been able to study in the field. And those studies have revealed that already, its proportion of males to females is skewed. "It could be because of chemical pollution or it could be because of climate change. We don't know," cautions Piferrer. "But the field data matches our predictions."

At this stage, it is hard to tell what these results bode for already declining fish populations around the world. Of the estimated 33,000 piscatorial species, only 5,000 have had their sex-determination mechanism affirmed. But the study by the two CSIC scientists also suggests that the percentage of TSD fish is lower than previously believed. In tests of 59 species believed to be reproductively sensitive to temperature, only 40 proved to be true TSDs.

That would be good news in this grim era of climate change if it weren't for one factor: even genotypic sex determination can be affected by anomalous conditions, including anomalous temperature. "Basically, if you freeze it or cook it enough," says Piferrer, "you can get whatever sex you want."

Monday, July 21, 2008

Fish pedicures: Carp rid human feet of scaly skin

See the AP story here.

By MATTHEW BARAKAT Associated Press Writer

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) -- Ready for the latest in spa pampering? Prepare to dunk your tootsies in a tank of water and let tiny carp nibble away.
Fish pedicures are creating something of a splash in the D.C. area, where a northern Virginia spa has been offering them for the past four months. John Ho, who runs the Yvonne Hair and Nails salon with his wife, Yvonne Le, said 5,000 people have taken the plunge so far.

"This is a good treatment for everyone who likes to have nice feet," Ho said.

He said he wanted to come up with something unique while finding a replacement for pedicures that use razors to scrape off dead skin. The razors have fallen out of favor with state regulators because of concerns about whether they're sanitary.

Ho was skeptical at first about the fish, which are called garra rufa but typically known as doctor fish. They were first used in Turkey and have become popular in some Asian countries.
But Ho doubted they would thrive in the warm water needed for a comfortable footbath. And he didn't know if customers would like the idea.

"I know people were a little intimidated at first," Ho said. "But I just said, 'Let's give it a shot.' "
Customers were quickly hooked.

Tracy Roberts, 33, of Rockville, Md., heard about it on a local radio show. She said it was "the best pedicure I ever had" and has spread the word to friends and co-workers.
"I'd been an athlete all my life, so I've always had calluses on my feet. This was the first time somebody got rid of my calluses completely," she said.

First time customer KaNin Reese, 32, of Washington, described the tingling sensation created by the toothless fish: "It kind of feels like your foot's asleep," she said.

The fish don't do the job alone. After 15 to 30 minutes in the tank, customers get a standard pedicure, made easier by the soft skin the doctor fish leave behind.

Ho believes his is the only salon in the country to offer the treatment, which costs $35 for 15 minutes and $50 for 30 minutes. The spa has more than 1,000 fish, with about 100 in each individual pedicure tank at any given time.

Dennis Arnold, a podiatrist who four years ago established the International Pedicure Association, said he had never heard of the treatment and doubts it will become widespread.
"I think most people would be afraid of it," he said.

Customer Patsy Fisher, 42, of Crofton, Md., admitted she was nervous as she prepared for her first fish pedicure. But her apprehension dissolved into laughter after she put her feet in the tank and the fish swarmed to her toes.

"It's a little ticklish, actually," she said.

Ho said the hot water in which the fish thrive doesn't support much plant or aquatic life, so they learned to feed on whatever food sources were available - including dead, flaking skin. They leave live skin alone because, without teeth, they can't bite it off.

In addition to offering pedicures, Ho hopes to establish a network of Doctor Fish Massage franchises and is evaluating a full-body fish treatment that, among other things, could treat psoriasis and other skin ailments.

Ho spent a year and about $40,000 getting the pedicures up and running, with a few hiccups along the way.

State regulations make no provision for regulating fish pedicures. But the county health department - which does regulate pools - required the salon to switch from a shallow, tiled communal pool that served as many as eight people to individual tanks in which the water is changed for each customer.

The communal pool also presented its own problem: At times the fish would flock to the feet of an individual with a surplus of dead skin, leaving others with a dearth of fish.

"It would sometimes be embarrassing for them but it was also really hilarious," Ho said.
[ed. - Ewww.....]

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Rabbi Chaim Goldberg's Fish DVD Released To the Public!!


View video here!!!

What makes a fish kosher, you say? Fins and scales. Everyone knows that. But very few people know that some scaled fish are as non-kosher as lobster! (See below to find out why.)
OU Kosher, as part of its ever-widening program of kashrut education, announced today the release of a new 30-minute DVD: “The Kosher Fish Primer – The Secrets Revealed,” featuring Rabbi Chaim Goldberg, an OU Kosher Rabbinic Coordinator who travels the world certifying fish as kosher. In his engaging manner, Rabbi Goldberg will delight audiences from young elementary school children to adults, as he explores the various issues the kosher consumer must consider when buying fish. Rabbi Goldberg doesn’t perform alone – fish are featured in the DVD as well. The recording is excellent for classroom and synagogue presentations.
Rabbi Goldberg, who received rabbinical ordination at Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn, NY, has directed the Kosher Fish Desk at the OU for six years. Rabbi Goldberg's "fish-finding missions" for the OU have taken him to Alaska, Chile, British Columbia, Peru, Colombia, Trinidad and Iceland. When he closes his tackle box, Rabbi Goldberg returns to Brooklyn, where he resides with his wife and three children (but as he states, “no fish tank, yet”).
The DVD covers:
· The textbook definition of kosher fish;
· Pre-empting some potential misunderstandings about kosher fish (why one cannot rely on fish lists or other identifications of fish by common name);
· The potential Torah and rabbinic prohibitions relating to fish;
· An explanation of how to identify a kosher fish;
· A hands-on demonstration of how to identify a kosher fish yourself; and
· A quick tutorial on how to buy kosher fish from any fish store – even if it is not kosher certified.
“The presentation is titled ‘The Kosher Fish Primer’ to indicate that we are in no way claiming to have covered every topic worth teaching about kosher fish, but rather as a thorough introduction to more advanced study, depending on the level of the students,” Rabbi Goldberg explained. “We hope that after viewing this DVD, the viewer will be a properly informed fish consumer, who will be able to buy fish wherever in the world one travels.”
The new DVD is the latest in a series of initiatives of OU Kosher’s educational outreach. This outreach includes programs such as “OU Kosher Coming,” which sends OU experts to schools, synagogues and campuses to share their knowledge of Jewish law and food technology; it features as well as the “Kosher Tidbits” web series, consisting of more than 100 short seminars on innumerable aspects of kashrut, and available on The “Kosher Kidz” video has been sent to yeshivot and day schools throughout North America to provide a basic understanding of what makes food kosher, with the production of kosher ice cream as the example.
Now, about that non-kosher fish with scales. Some fish have scales which cannot be removed from the fish without ripping the skin (like some sharks and eels). These fish are not kosher, as Rabbi Goldberg explains.
The video can be obtained from OU Kosher by contacting Rabbi Eliyahu Safran, OU Kosher Senior Rabbinic Coordinator and Vice President of Communications and Marketing, at

Monday, April 28, 2008

Think before consuming...

The view from the beach of Puerto Montt, Chile Jan 2006.
We recently discussed the kashrus concerns of various salmon diseases (see post of March 28th entitled, "Does Illness Affect Kosher Status of Fish?" below). All kashrus aside, today I'm struck with thinking about the "morality" of the whole thing.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating the end of farmed fish (we eat plenty of farmed salmon and tilapia at home, despite my misgivings about it). What I am saying is that all consumers (be they of food, natural resources, or even other people's time and money for that matter) have a certain responsibility to be aware of the other side of their consumption. Let's call this my thesis.

Today's story is from the Patagonia Times (a newpaper highlighting the area of Chile where salmon is farmed) regarding the move of salmon farms from "Region X" to "Region XII". The reasons for the move are clear - there isn't enough room in Region X, and there is need for disease free waters for farming.
After reading the story, you can get the sense of how much salmon farming may be effecting the environment, all in the name of consumption.
For those less familiar with Chile (I was lucky to be able to visit in Jan 2006, for business) the areas are not divided by states or counties so much as "Regions", starting from the north and running south. Most Chilean salmon (70% according to this article) are farmed in Region X, in and around Puerto Montt.
Consume as you wish. My suggestion, simply think before consuming...

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Kosher Fish Video, starring Rabbi Chaim Goldberg in the works!!


Kosher Fish Destination enthusiasts, get in line. The much talked about video of your host, Rabbi Chaim Goldberg, will soon be available at The actual link directly to the video will be posted here when available, maybe even the video itself if I can figure out how to do it.

As reported in other places (meaning, had you asked me personally before today) , this video was made primarily as a classroom primer, aiming to help teachers explain kosher fish to classes outside of the Metro NY area, where I cannot travel with my piscine friends. However, adults will find it both entertaining, captivating, and worthy of nomination for a major award. At least my mom will thinnk so when she sees it. I hope...

Stay tuned!!!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Teach your Children How to Tell if a Fish is Kosher!!!

Folks, it is parshas Shemini. Yes, I know its Friday, but it is not too late!!

Here's the thing. Teachers tell students the signs of a kosher fish are fins and scales, which as my avid readers know is not accurate at all). The Torach says a kosher fish has "snapir v'kaskeses", which Ramban Vayika 11:9 explains are scales which can be removed by hand or with a knife without ripping skin.

How hard would it be to add this little addendum when telling you children (as young a 5!!) how to know what a kosher fish is?

For your younger yungins, I have a little song to use to help them rememeber (sung to the tune of "Twinkle twinkle little star":

Kaskeses is the way to know

If in my tummy this fish can go

If a scale comes out, and doesn't rip skin,

Look out tummy, its coming in!

But if a scale you cannot find

Your fish might be, a treife kind

Is this too hard for a small kid to learn? It is a Torah commandment to learn how to differentiate between kosher and non-kosher species, an integral part of our MESORAH, and best of all, it might even prevent you kid from buying a treif fish some day...

If you really need to, go here and learn more about the biology of the fish, or ask me to come over and help!

Does Illness Affect Kosher Status of Fish?

Sea lice from young wild salmon. Photo by Alexandra Morton

Question: Does illness affect kosher status of fish?

Answer: In short - absolutely not!

Illness does not affect kosher status of any fish, which is determined exclusively by the presence (or absense) of "kosher scales", namely scales which can be removed from the fish without ripping the skin.

The question came up because of a recent NY Times story here about Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA) . While in animals and birds there IS a concern about disease, there is no such limitation found in salmon.

Fear not!

Now, for the long(er) version:

"The practice of aquaculture is not without negative impacts. The harmful consequences and risks associated with aquaculture can be broken down into the three subcategories below. They are: risks to the farmed fish themselves; risks to the surrounding environment and organisms; and risks to the human population. "

This quote is from: Duke University's Biology dept, whose cite can be found here. They know more about the effect on people than me, so read up!

To the best of my (little) knowledge, the diseased fish are not usually sold, and any fish whose disease would impact humans are not (spuuopsed to be) sold.

I do not see a practical issue for my subscribers.

Same thing for salmon lice (which some kosher agencies are crazy about). As I remember from a conversation I had with Avi Attias (co-owner of Banner Smoked Fish in Brooklyn, NY) any lice on the fish fall off after they are frozen, and are so huge and ugly that they would never wind up in the food supply.

In long: fear not!