It’s been quite a year.
As the last few heartbeats of the year 2009 fade away, it is natural to take stock of how far we have come. It’s important to recognize our victories, as well as to isolate and examine our shortcomings. After all, there’s certainly no need to make the same mistakes again in 2010.
I’m also happy to say that it was Sustainable Sushi‘s first birthday at some point in the last few weeks. Over this past year, this website has afforded me with the opportunity not only to explore many fascinating issues, but to discuss them with people commenting from all across the globe. It has been a wonderful experience, and I thank you all so very much for helping to make it happen.
So, 2009: a tumultuous year by any standard. The oceans have had a tough time of it, but in other ways, we’ve achieved more than we could have possibly hoped for.
There have been times over the past twelve months when things have seemed bleak. It is beyond debate that the oceans took some major blows this year, and some of the ominous clouds on the horizon have grown even darker:
The efforts of Prince Albert II of Monaco, the first head of state to stand up for the bluefin tuna, were undermined by France’s President Sarkozy, EU Commissioner Joe Borg, and the governments of several other Mediterranean countries.
- A swarm of gargantuan jellyfish attacked Japan, causing tremendous damage to the fishing fleet.
- A disease outbreak in Chile’s salmon farms led first to an egregious abuse of antibiotics, and then to the catastrophic collapse of what was formerly the largest segment of the world’s salmon farming industry.
- The ICCAT meeting in Recife, Brazil, failed inexcusably in its charge, setting bluefin tuna quotas far exceeding any scientific ally defensible numbers and underscoring yet again the need for CITES Appendix I protection for this animal.
The Copenhagen climate change conference missed the mark and fell short of setting any global reasonable emissions goals, paving the way for the increased acidification of the world’s oceans.
- December’s WCPFC meeting in Tahiti should have resulted in protectionary measures to forestall these practices, but thanks to pressure to the contrary from Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea, the talks collapsed.
At the same time, we’ve seen some incredible successes this year. All across the planet, people stood up for the oceans, bringing their passion for a better planet with them as they cooked, shopped, wrote, worked and marched:
- TIME Magazine ran a front-page article on the disappearing bluefin tuna, waking millions of people across the globe to the plight of the world’s largest bony fish.
Greenpeace conducted a series of campaigns across the Pacific Ocean, drawing attention to the ecological carnage wrought by many skipjack tuna seiners.
- Japanese pole-caught skipjack tuna attained Marine Stewardship Council certification, becoming the first Japanese fishery to do so.
- The World Wildlife Fund and other participating stakeholders completed and ratified a global standard for tilapia farming. Regardless of whether or not one supports the standard itself, the groundbreaking idea of using an open-stakeholder system to develop guidelines for sustainable aquaculture is something to be commended.
The End of the Line, a documentary on overfishing and the state of the world’s oceans, was released. This led to increased pressure on Nobu restaurant to discontinue the sale of endangered Northern bluefin. This momentum manifest in celebrity petitions, dozens of articles in trade and mainstream press, and a Greenpeace campaign.
- Many major seafood retailers in the United States discontinued problematic seafood items in an effort to become more sustainable in their practices. As an example, Wegmans, Target, and Whole Foods all stopped selling orange roughy due to the irresponsible catch methods used in the fishery.
- Mashiko restaurant in Seattle, WA, converted to a fully sustainable menu, becoming the first conventional sushi bar in the world to make such a transition.
The Cove, a shocking documentary about the Taiji dolphin slaughter, was released worldwide. Broome, Australia, discontinued its sister-city relationship with Taiji over the fiasco. Taiji has temporarily halted its dolphin drive, but other communities in Japan continue to hunt dolphins. The Cove has even been nominated for an Academy Award for “Best Documentary.”
- 2009 marked the first year in a world beyond the grindadrap: the annual Faeroese pilot whale drive that had caused much consternation among environmentalists. In response to warnings by their chief medical advisors, the Faeroese practice of slaughtering pilot whales and distributing the meat throughout the community was halted permanently in November of 2008.
The majority of these positive changes are part of a greater pattern: an accelerating increase in our overall awareness of the problems faced by our oceans. Movies, magazine articles, and activist campaigns have brought the health of our fisheries to the headlines and to the tips of our tongues. The amount of conversations we are having at coffee shops, in grocery stores, and around backyard barbecues about seafood sustainability and environmentally responsible fish consumption has never been higher – and rising faster than ever before.
Yes, it’s true that the bluefin tuna is in dire straits. It is true that eel poaching continues unabated, that bottom trawlers still prowl the seas, and that we are on pace to empty the oceans of all seafood in less than forty years. Still, as menacing as these threats are, they are not the most important issues at hand.
The single most powerful and meaningful thing that happened to our oceans this year is that we truly began to wake up to the truth of what we are doing to our planet. We are more aware. We are more alert. And we are much more energized and focused.
Hundreds of new ocean activists are standing up every day to make a difference. Maybe they write a check, or they buy a different kind of fish, or they have a conversation with a chef or grocer. Maybe they simply have coffee with a good friend and spread the word. It doesn’t matter – it all helps. Every day we come closer to achieving critical mass, a fully realized awareness that will mobilize our true potential to save our oceans.
So let’s make 2010 the year that we redouble our efforts. It is time to capitalize on our momentum and push even harder, accomplish even more for the sake of planet and our future. There is still a tremendous amount of work to do, but make no mistake: we are stronger than the forces that would hold us back. And on those particularly gloomy days, when bad news comes crashing down and the future looks insurmountably bleak, just remember: you are not alone. We’re all in this together – you, me, and the millions of other people that are out there fighting every single day, working to make this world a better place for all of us.
Take heart — we are winning.