At 3 a.m. one day last week, crewmen began unloading draggers at Manhattan's Fulton Fish Market on the East River. Through the quiet streets leading to the market, giant trailer-trucks rumbled up with even bigger loads. There were cod and pollock from Massachusetts, salmon from Canada, croakers and sea bass from Maryland, lobsters from Maine, shrimp from Florida, clams and oysters from Long Island. They were put into barrels and boxes or just piled in the bins of stalls along the waterfront.

Promptly at 6, at the sound of a bell, retail buyers crowded into the slime-spattered aisles. Booted and...

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