Sustainable sushi

sushiTonight I had dinner with a colleague who travels the globe to address serious disaster relief and international health issues. He’s fascinating to talk to and I always look forward to hearing about his most recent travels. Tonight he was telling me about a trip to Japan where he visited the famous Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo — the enormous market where they sell the prized bluefin tuna among a myriad of other species. He went there at 5am, which is the best time to see the day’s offerings before they’re quickly sold to restaurants. I imagine it was fascinating. He told me he had sushi there for breakfast and my mouth watered at the thought of the extraordinarily fresh fish he must have enjoyed. Then, feeling guilty, I thought about Toro. The prized belly of the tuna that sells for ridiculous prices. Why? Because its increasingly rare. Just a few days ago, WWF released a report that bluefin tuna stocks are collapsing under the heavy demand. Why are people still eating this when it’s been shown to have high levels of mercury? I urge sushi lovers to avoid this delicacy and any other sushi – or seafood – dishes that are not currently sustainable. There’s an organization called Sea Choice in Canada that has produced a sustainable sushi card to educate diners on the best choices for sushi. If you’re a sushi fan, print it and carry it in your wallet.

This is what WWF has to say about bluefin tuna:

Mediterranean bluefin tuna stocks collapsing now as fishing season open

As the Mediterranean’s bloated fishing fleets ready themselves for the opening of the bluefin tuna fishery, WWF has released an analysis showing that the bluefin breeding population will disappear by 2012 under the current fishing regime.

14 Apr 2009 – Rome, Italy – As the Mediterranean’s bloated fishing fleets ready themselves for the opening of the bluefin tuna fishery tomorrow, WWF has released an analysis showing that the bluefin breeding population will disappear by 2012 under the current fishing regime.

Global conservation organization WWF reveals that the population of breeding tunas has been declining steeply for the past decade – and will be wiped out completely in 3 years if fisheries managers and decision-makers keep ignoring the warnings from scientists that fishing must stop.

“Mediterranean bluefin tuna is on the slippery slope to collapse, and here is the data to prove it,” said Dr Sergi Tudela, Head of Fisheries at WWF Mediterranean. “Whichever way you look at it, the Mediterranean bluefin tuna collapse trend is dramatic, it is alarming, and it is happening now.”

“WWF has no choice but to again urge the immediate closure of this fishery.”

The population of tunas that are capable of reproducing -– fish aged 4 years or over and weighing more than 35 kg -– is being wiped out. In 2007 the proportion of breeding tuna was only a quarter of the levels of 50 years ago, with most of the decline happening in recent years.

Meanwhile, the size of mature tunas has more than halved since the 1990s. The average size of tuna caught off the coast of Libya, for example, has dropped from 124 kg in 2001 to only 65 kg last year. Data gathered by WWF show that this pattern has been observed across the entire Mediterranean.

Before the age of large-scale industrial fishing, individual tunas could even weigh in at 900 kg. The loss of these giant tunas –- able to produce many more offspring than medium-sized individuals -– has a disproportionately high impact on the reproduction of the species.

The huge overcapacity of fishing fleets, catches that far exceed legal quotas, pirate fishing, the use of illegal spotting planes to chase the tunas, under-reporting of catch, fishing during the closed season, management measures disregarding scientific advice -– and the insatiable appetite of the world’s luxury seafood markets -– have all contributed to this dramatic decline.

“For years people have been asking when the collapse of this fishery will happen, and now we have the answer,” added Dr Tudela. “Mediterranean bluefin tuna is collapsing as we speak and yet the fishery will kick off again tomorrow for business as usual. It is absurd and inexcusable to open a fishing season when stocks of the target species are collapsing.”

WWF is calling for the immediate closure of the Mediterranean bluefin tuna fishery to give the species a chance to recover, while continuing to encourage consumers, retailers, restaurants and chefs to join the global movement to avoid the consumption of the imperilled fish.

There is also growing support to suspend international trade of Atlantic bluefin tuna by getting it listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) when contracting parties meet in early 2010.

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