July 24, 2012

Sushi Lovers: Tuna Facts You Need to Know Before Ordering.

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Dear Reader,

I appreciate your mindful reading. Click here if you’d like to read Part One of this series.

If my words come off as overwrought or dramatic, or even preachy, forgive me. Just don’t take it out on the tuna by skimming through this series of essays.




Part Two:

According to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources), tunas are in trouble across the board.

Southern Bluefin is critically endangered and Atlantic bluefin is endangered. Bigeye, yellowfin and albacore will likely follow suit.

And there’s more bad news. On April 1st, Rupert Murdoch’s National Geographic Channel premiered a series called Wicked Tuna. The show follows bluefin tuna fishermen in Gloucester, Massachusetts in pursuit of a big catch—and a huge payout. I’ve seen several YouTube clips of the show, and I can’t take it for long. Something seems terribly dysfunctional about killing tuna and then talking about protecting them.

And this from the Wicked Tuna FAQ website via National Geographic:

Q: There is a lot of discussion of the tuna going to Japan in the show. Does all of the bluefin caught off Gloucester go to Japan? And why is demand so high in Japan?

A: The US accounts for maybe five percent of the global bluefin tuna catch and over half of the US catch is exported, mainly to Japan. About 3/4 of the global bluefin catch goes to Japan where its fatty flesh is consumed as the highest grades of sushi and sashimi—maguro and toro.

To be fair, it is no wonder bluefin tuna are a fisherman’s dream catch. I can see the lure. They’re badasses. I would feel like a badass too if I caught one (but also a complete jerk and a murderer).

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I realize they’re tasty fish, and amazing game fish and all that, but Americans must stop eating them. We need to make a collective fuss about restaurants that continue to serve bluefin tuna. Yeah, I’m talkin’ to you, Mr. De Niro, co-owner of Nobu. It’s a national disgrace to be complicit in the extermination of a species. I mean, I know you’re busy and stuff—and I don’t want you to go all Untouchables and shit—but come on, sir, be a public leader in this fight.

I, and millions of others, want to see bluefin eighty-sixed from restaurant menus. I think we can all agree that bluefin tuna are one of the planet’s most awesome creatures and that their value is not merely of the flesh.

At the very least, Americans should give the bluefin a fighting chance before it leaves the world for good.

Some companies are betting on just that—the bluefin’s extinction.

Mitsubishi Corporation, for one, has amassed several underwater ranches in the Mediterranean (one of the two Atlantic bluefin spawning grounds, the other being the Gulf of Mexico). The Mediterranean ranches exist to fatten wild caught bluefin before chainsawing their heads off, freezing them, and transporting them to delivery points in Japan.

Source: Uploaded by user via Sunita on Pinterest.
Arial images of Drvenik Tuna Ranch, a Croation operation jointly owned by Spain’s Ricardo Fuentes
e Hijos and Japan’s Mitsubishi Corp. Source: Our Sea, Croatia.

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When the death knell strikes for the bluefin, like the thwack that was the last truffula tree, Mitsubishi and others will very likely have freezers full of million dollar carcasses.

Bluefin is serious fucking business.

Sure, there are international limits on catch, but it’s like the Wild West out there, with widespread overfishing and flouting of regulations. Moreover, there’s a thriving black market in bluefin trade and no incentive to go easy on this fish. The demand is simply too high.

Japan accounts for nearly 80 percent of bluefin demand. The U.S. is second. The website of a Japanese restaurant supply company in California says that there were only 80 Japanese restaurants in the Bay Area in the 1970s. As of May 2010, that number grew to 800. Similarly, there have been explosions of sushi restaurants in cities across America. Just the other day, here in Chicago, I saw two new sushi restaurants within a block of each other. We’ve all seen it happening.

So out of curiosity, I phoned the five top rated sushi restaurants in Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Of all twenty, sixteen of them serve bluefin. I even called a sushi restaurant in San Antonio, Texas. Wouldn’t you know, bluefin.

Even if a bluefin is caught in Gloucester, it will very likely go through Japan first before it gets to your plate. For a bluefin tuna carcass, pretty much all roads lead to Tsukiji Fish Market.

Americans don’t have to live in Japan to send a strong message to the bluefin industry.

It’s simple. Stop going to restaurants that serve it. Politely inform a manager why you won’t be spending your money there. Leave a note. Start a conversation. Make your voice heard.

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Even though bluefin numbers have plummeted in recent decades, these fish still can’t catch a break. The message is not getting through. What if the American sushi patron can tip the scales in favor of the bluefin tuna’s survival? Crazier things have happened. Just as you wouldn’t consider purchasing the taxidermied hand of a mountain gorilla or tasting tiger penis soup, you might think twice before ordering that tuna sashimi or spicy tuna roll.

This is Part Two of a three part series. Stay tuna’d.

Click here to read Part One—Sushi Lovers: Stop Ordering Tuna.

Editor: Lynn Hasselberger

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