The tale of tuna and why we need sustainable seafood.

Photo: InvernoDreaming, flickr creative commons.

Photo: InvernoDreaming, flickr creative commons.

It has been predicted that we will use up all the ocean resources by 2048. That’s 33 years away. It’s possible we may run out of seafood before we run out of oil.

Tuna is one of the most commonly consumed seafood delicacies. The first commercial tuna was shipped to Japan in 1971 by plane, and without realizing, this was the beginning of the end for bluefin tuna. Tsukiji Market in Tokyo is known as the largest fish market in the world. Tuna is not distributed or consumed without travelling through Tsukiji first. Here tuna - and many other species - are imported, inspected, and auctioned. January 4th 2011, a single bluefin tuna broke records as it was auctioned for $400,000. A single sliver of bluefin could be sold for $100. It’s a primary example of a fish that is too valuable for its own good.

Oma, Japan is known for the most valuable tuna. The fishing technique is very different in this town, where fishing boats are smaller and usually only have one or two fisherman aboard with one hook. The fishermen handle only one catch at a time and return to port immediately to ensure the fish is fresh. Tuna from Oma is believed by sushi chefs throughout Asia to have a special, line-caught taste. This seems like an almost impossible statement, but customers rave about the quality of these fish. The fisherman in Oma have been fishing for generations and they are concerned for the future of their livelihood.

Tuna has been described as Porsches of the sea - they’re fast, big, and valuable. Their streamlined bodies are utilized as sprinters, marathoners, and globe trotters, leaving ocean engineers in awe with their efficient physics. They are apex predators, sitting on the top of the trophic pyramid. By eliminating the tuna, a thriving ecosystem will rapidly go off balance and crash. Since the 1950s, the tuna population has experienced a 60-80% decline. Therein lies a critical need to reform tuna fishing to sustainable levels - to use tuna, but not in a manner that causes stocks to disappear.

Sushi has become a global trend and as incomes increase across many parts of the world, palates are also becoming more sophisticated. Historically, sushi has not been a popular dish in China. However, as more Chinese develop a taste for it, there are potentially 50 million new sushi eaters on the rise. Affordable and accessible sushi is dominating the food industry and is becoming ubiquitous. Sushi is seen as street food, sold during Texas football games, and even packaged as children’s snacks (sushi poppers).

It is up to seafood lovers to ensure there is a future for bluefin tuna and all of the favorite ocean critters. It is possible to have a guilt free seafood experience and to do so, it is important that we are aware of the issues and ask the appropriate questions:

  • Was it fished responsibly?
  • Where did the catch come from?
  • Is it a suitable process?
  • Are the fish organic?

It is up to individuals to vote with your wallet - tell your fish providers that you want sustainable seafood. Appreciate what you eat. Become knowledgeable about what we are taking from the sea and make better choices (example: Bluefin tuna’s been ranked as a seafood item to avoid). Download the SeaChoice iPhone app to know which fish to eat and which to stay away from. Let’s make the change.