Posted by Casson in Guest post
Guest posts at sustainablesushi.net do not necessarily represent the opinion of the owner/operator of this website (Casson Trenor). In fact, they are often chosen specifically because they offer an alternative perspective and can give rise to int
eresting debate. Guest authors neither pay nor receive any sort of compensation for their participation. Illustrations and captions are provided by sustainablesushi.net unless indicated otherwise.
Fitness guru Denis Faye of Beachbody
Sushi: The Ultimate Sports Supplement?
By Denis Faye
Everyone loves the idea of fitness, but actually doing it is a different story. It all sounds so wonderful until you realize you need to exercise every day and, even worse, cut all the good stuff out of our diet.
However, it’s not all that bad. In fact, some of the foods you consider indulgent can offer huge health benefits. (The exercising part is a whole other story. You’re on your own for that one.) One perfect example of this is sushi. If done right, it’s not just good for, it’s a great way to get the nutrients you need to propel that active lifestyle. Let’s take a closer look at everyone favorite Japanese culinary contribution.
But before I start, I need to throw down a few caveats. First off, I’m not talking about those Double-Rainbow-Spicy-Crab-Inside-Out-California-Detroit Rolls that many consider crucial to a visit to sushi bar. They’re usually loaded with sodium-rich or fatty sauces and the minute amount of fish within has usually been fried or mayonnaised into nutritional oblivion. I’m talking straight sushi or sashimi: a nice slice of raw fish (sorry, unagi lovers), maybe a little rice, or maybe a simple maki: fish and rice a little nori (seaweed) wrapped around it.
"Soy sauce is not a beverage." -- Chef Hajime Sato
Also, keep the soy sauce to a minimum. Exercise tends to drain the body of sodium, so the physically fit can get away with more salt intake, but there are still limits. Stick to low-sodium sauce and dip the fish part of the sushi instead of saturating the rice part. If the fish is good, you won’t want to drown out the flavor anyway!
Finally, moderation is key. When it comes to eating healthy, if you need to loosen your belt after a meal, no matter how nutrition it was, you blew it. But as long as you don’t get carried away, fish is one of the healthiest sources of protein you can get. The main reason for this is the super-healthy fat that comes with it.
While many people mistakenly avoid all fat when trying to eat right, the truth is, fat is a vital nutrient. It’s crucial that you have it in your diet. Most fish is loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which help brain function and act as an anti-inflammatory – a great asset when dealing with bodily stress induced by hard, physical training. Salmon and tuna are both high in omega-3s, as is mackerel, but as you know, the mackerel used in sushi tends to be cured in salt, driving up the sodium count.
As for mercury-in-seafood debate, unless you’re pregnant, nursing, or a small child, you generally don’t need to worry about it. For the rest of us, the omega-3 benefits are worth a little mercury. As long as you limit fish intake to 4 servings a week or so, there shouldn’t be anything to worry about.
Now, onto the rice. Generally speaking, brown rice is healthier for you. It’s higher in fiber, which slows absorption into the blood stream. That’s a good thing, because absorbing too many carbs too fast can lead to blood sugar spikes, which, in turn, can lead to type 2 diabetes and obesity. But there are a couple factors here that make white rice okay. First, while you don’t have the fiber to slow absorption, the fat and protein in the fish can serve the same function; so make sure your chef is generous with the fish. And, in the event that you do overdo the rice, here’s a neat thing about working out: After intense exercise, especially when it involves anaerobic (or weightlifting) activity, your blood sugar drops because you were using it as fuel. So, whereas that influx of carbs (white rice) into your system might be bad at other times, post-workout, it serves to top off your tank and rush other nutrients into your system faster. In the fitness world, we call that kind of timed nutrition a recovery meal.
Finally, seaweed is so good for you on so many levels. For the athlete, it’s packed with minerals, or electrolytes, which are often wicked out in training. It also has antioxidant properties, which strengthen the immune system – something else that can get compromised after intense workouts.
So work hard and eat right, but treat yourself to a sushi meal every now and again. It’s the right thing to do. Who knew eating right could be so much fun?
Starting out as “weight challenged,” Denis Faye dropped 50 pounds following a 5-year jaunt through Australia, a trip that helped him become the extreme fitness and sports enthusiast he is today. He’s been a professional journalist for 20 years, writing for Surfer, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Magazine, Outside, Wired, Men’s Health, Men’s Journal, GQ, Surfer, and Pacific Longboarder. His sports include swimming, scuba, trekking, rock climbing, mountain biking, spelunking, and — most importantly — surfing. Denis writes for Beachbody, which provides effective and popular exercise videos including the well known P90x program.
This installment of my monthly Alternet column, “4 Oceans,” was originally published on April 1, 2011.
The thunderous power of the dollar can obliterate nearly all barriers between consumers and the objects of our desire. If one is willing and able to throw out enough cash, there’s very little in this world that we can’t have. Sadly, this reach extends to a number of aquatic species that just aren’t built to cope with such pressure. In this month’s “4 Oceans,” we examine several seafood items that we just shouldn’t eat, even if we have the wherewithal to acquire them.
This is probably old news to a lot of readers, but the current state of the world’s bluefin tuna populations have been reduced to shadows of their former glory. The fish that fed Rome’s legions now barely ekes out an existence as it is hunted relentlessly to satisfy the top echelon of the world’s sushi industry. Bluefin prices soar while stocks continue to plummet, shackled to the twin lead weights of insatiable demand and ineffectual management.
I can answer that
Last year, a smattering of different countries attempted to grant the bluefin protection under the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), which would have effectively ended international trade in this animal. This push was mercilessly quashed by a larger and more committed cadre of governments led by Japan, which hosted cooperative delegates at a pre-vote banquet where they served – you guessed it – bluefin tuna.
Bluefin stocks around the world are verging on utter collapse and yet fishing pressure does not abate. Politics and short-sighted economic interests are nearly always victorious over science and environmental consciousness whenever this bluefin is involved. But even if we can’t depend on political processes, we can least put the chopsticks down.
Over the last four years, ten of the twenty largest seafood retailers in the United States have discontinued orange roughy. Some stores, like Whole Foods and Wegmans, even made public statements on the environmental impacts associated with this fishery when explaining their decisions to stop selling this species. It’s comforting to see for-profit retail enterprises taking stands that seem based more on ethics and long-game considerations than simple quick-fix cash grabs.
You're having a rough day, orange you?
Anyhow, orange roughy is a fish that has no business playing any significant role in our seafood industry. The animal simply isn’t built to withstand heavy fishing pressure. First off, it reaches market size well before sexual maturity – a lamentable characteristic, since this results in many roughy being eaten before they’ve had a chance to reproduce and repopulate the fishery. Second, the animal itself can live to a tremendous age – ninety-year-old roughy are not uncommon (at least, they weren’t before we started eating them all.) Fish that live that long are generally not built to reproduce in great numbers; they have evolutionarily invested in longevity rather than in quantity of offspring.
To worsen matters, orange roughy is caught using wantonly destructive bottom trawl nets, and its flesh is a simple, flaky white fillet (there are other, more sustainable sources for this type of product.) It’s best to avoid this species altogether.
Shark (and shark fin)
The more we learn about the role that sharks play in our oceanic ecosystems, the more bat-shit crazy we have to be to keep slaughtering them. Sharks are apex predators, feeding slowly from the top of the food chain and ensuring that the populations of other animals in their areas are kept in check. Without sharks, we see population explosions of their prey items, which in turn devastate the organisms that they prey upon, and so on and so forth. The removal of a single shark from the food system it polices is akin to hurtling a massive monkey wrench into the core gears of the ocean’s ecological stabilization machinery, and we are tossing out somewhere between 50 and 100 million of these wrenches every year.
While many sharks are killed accidentally as bycatch in longline fisheries that target other animals (longlined swordfish is particularly worrisome), the majority of annual shark casualties are perpetrated intentionally by those the shark fin industry. Shark fins – used for soup, especially for weddings and other significant events, by certain segments of the world’s Chinese communities – can fetch astronomical prices and are often used to convey a message of status and wealth. Luckily, the world is waking up to the damage that finning wreaks upon our ocean. Shark fin bans have been enacted in Hawaii, Guam, and Saipan (Mariana Islands), and have been proposed in California, Oregon, and Washington State. If these landmark pieces of legislation pass, we will have taken a great step towards protecting these unique and mysterious creatures.
Chilean sea bass
The Patagonian and Antarctic toothfish (aka Chilean sea bass) are long-lived, slow-to-reproduce apex predators. Still, there are those that claim there is such a thing as a sustainable Chilean sea bass fishery. Some would argue that a particular population, under the guidelines of a particular management authority, governed under a certain catch quota, can in fact be fished sustainably, and that this particular fishery, cut off from the larger amorphous Chilean sea bass industry – dominated as it is by pirates and a rapacious gold-rush mentality – merits our support.
The face of overfishing?
Allow me to propose a slightly different line of thought.
The world is a finite place. I know it doesn’t seem as such, but the ocean is a contained area, and it has boundaries. It does not go on forever. It ends – and in more than one sense.
Over the past century, the way that we fish has changed. Decade after decade, we have pushed the boundaries of our oceans in every way imaginable – geographically (ships are going farther), bathymetrically (ships are fishing deeper), and temporally (ships are spending more time on the water). In our quest for seafood, we strain at the very boundaries of our food system, until we reach the ocean’s farthest-flung reaches in all three categories – by dropping hooks to the ocean floor off of Antarctica in the middle of winter.
That is how, where, and when we catch Chilean sea bass.
Sustainable fishing simply cannot occur in an area and at a depth that is so obviously a reaction to an overblown and exhausted food system — a food system that, because of its inability to balance itself, has cantilevered out into dangerous extremes. The very existence of a Chilean sea bass fishery is in itself evidence of an unsustainable fishing paradigm. To label a Chilean sea bass fishery sustainable only serves as evidence to the contrary, as the claim itself underscores our failure to grasp and to apply the true meaning of sustainability to our seafood industry.
The seafood show at the end of the world
It’s been a while. Sorry for the silence.
There were any number of reasons for my delay in writing this. March was a busy month for sure: the resurgence of competing priorities, such as working towards the successful end of Greenpeace’s Trader Joe’s campaign, certainly did their part in keeping me away from this blog. The Boston Seafood Show and related pandemonium was no help either. But to be honest, the main reason that I haven’t written is much simpler than that.
I’ve been sad.
The Northern bluefin tuna was doomed to commercial extinction last month at the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) meeting in Doha, Qatar. In spite of all the work done by millions of caring people around the globe, the Japanese delegation managed to defeat our best efforts and corral enough votes to deny the bluefin even the most meager of protections. Truly, the ocean’s most majestic fish has been sentenced to death for the twin crimes of being profitable and delicious.
I have spent the last few weeks seething over the unconscionable actions of the Japanese delegation. CITES wasn’t even about coming together and discussing the real issues – frankly, it never got that far. Riding in on a horse of flame and bluster (earlier that week, the Japanese government had stated that “even if the bluefin were awarded CITES protection, the Japanese would ignore it,”) a fifty-strong group of delegates from Tokyo stormed the meeting, bullying and coercing smaller nations into supporting their myopic, arrogant agenda. And the cherry on top of this bloody sundae? The Japanese delegation hosted a dinner during CITES to discuss this issue, at which they had the audacity to serve – you guessed it – bluefin tuna.
Am I the only one appalled by this unbridled hubris?
Ummm... a little help?
To worsen matters even more, a measure aimed at restricting the trade of corals was defeated, and of the eight species of shark that were tabled for potential protection, not a single one was given any succor whatsoever. Oh, and I almost forgot – the polar bear was left out in the cold as well.
The 2010 CITES meeting was nothing short of a travesty. The few countries that were finally able to get things together and support an environmental agenda fell apart in the face of a well-organized, well-funded Japanese delegation that treated these matters as nothing short of issues of national security. In one fell swoop, the CITES parties have sacrificed ten key species – northern bluefin tuna, oceanic whitetip sharks, scalloped hammerhead sharks, great hammerhead sharks, smooth hammerhead sharks, porbeagle sharks, spiny dogfish, sandbar sharks, dusky sharks, and our noble polar bears – for the benefit of short-sighted economic gain.
Citizens of Earth – our leaders have failed us. Miserably. So what do we do?
No port in a storm
Although it may not seem like it from the title of this post, I’m still not ready to take the bluefin’s death certificate to the local notary public. We do have a slight glimmer of hope here in the USA.
The western population of the Northern bluefin tuna spawns in a small area in the Gulf of Mexico, much of which is located within US waters. Even if we can’t yet regulate international commerce, we can still do our part to protect these bedeviled creatures while they are visiting our coastline.
Targeted bluefin fishing in the aforementioned spawning grounds has been forbidden (under ICCAT, believe it or not) since the 1980s. Still, that doesn’t stop fishermen from targeting other species – mainly swordfish and yellowfin tuna – in those areas, and bluefin bycatch is a serious problem. Hundreds of spawning animals are killed every year by longliners that are operating in these areas.
Not in our waters
It is within our power to rectify this situation. If the US government bans the use of longline fishing gear within the spawning grounds, it will drastically reduce the overall bluefin bycatch rate in the Gulf and allow more fish the opportunity to reproduce. This is one way that we can bolster the population while we continue to push for the international management that the bluefin so sorely needs.
Please support the PEW environment group’s campaign to give the bluefin tuna at least a modicum of protection by banning longlines in the Gulf of Mexico bluefin spawning grounds.
Ahh, ICCAT. Our friendly International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas. Truly a group of wise and responsible stewards of the seas.
Thanks for nothing
This has gone too far. The greed and corruption running this Commission are now about as well camouflaged as a stegosaurus trying to hide behind a postage stamp. Forgive the hackneyed humor, but there is no longer any doubt whatsoever that ICCAT does in fact stand for “The International Conspiracy to Catch All the Tuna.”
Last week, at a meeting in Recife, Brazil, the scientific advisers to the Commission proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Northern bluefin tuna is in a critical situation. Not a single delegate dared voice an objection to the fact that the animal’s perilous status qualified it for protection under CITES.
Numerous scientists from a multitude of different countries and environmental organizations submitted proposals stating unequivocally that the quota must be dropped from the current 19,500 metric tons to no more than 8,000 metric tons, if we hope to give the population even a 50% chance of recovery.
Clover: Pleading for sanity
The science was bulletproof. There was not a single shred of evidence that could countervail this assertion. Greenpeace, WWF, and other environmental groups belabored the point until they were hoarse. Charles Clover, author of The End of the Line and prominent champion of the bluefin, made the trek to Recife to plead the poor fish’s case – he even managed to arrange a screening of the film for the ICCAT delegates.
So, when all was said and done, what was the final decision of the Commission?
In its infinite wisdom, the august body that is ICCAT voted to set the upcoming season’s bluefin quota at 13,500 metric tons.
ICCAT: Doing the math
This number far exceeds any remotely defensible figure. It’s a quota with zero scientific basis that flies in the face of conventional wisdom and virtually ensures the commercial extinction of this animal. Such a calculus is justifiable only to the members of what is clearly no more than a political cult idolizing greed, corruption, and piracy.
I need to take a few seconds and collect myself before continuing, lest this post degenerate into rabid polemics and I end up with spittle all over my computer screen. I am so angry right now that it is difficult for me to express myself in a manner that doesn’t involve the wanton destruction of some nearby appliance.
ICCAT has failed. It has failed us, and it has failed the bluefin. It has failed the oceans, it has failed the planet, and it has failed our children.
In fact, ICCAT has even managed to fail the myopic fishing interests that control it. Any corruption-riddled junta worth its salt should at least be able to satisfy its puppeteers to the degree that it provide them with their illicit plunder for more than just a couple of years. This quota will not only ensure the destruction of the bluefin, but it will result in the controlling parties not even having a resource to exploit come the end of the Mayan calendar.
Catching their drift
Immediately folloing the closing session of the Recife meeting, Charles Clover wrote a scathing and comprehensive letter in response to this kangaroo court escapade, noting that not only was the Commission unable to adopt sensible protections for several shark species, ICCAT actually voted to allow three member nations to continue to use drift nets — one of the most indiscriminate and destructive fishing methods on the face of the planet. And thus do we all sally forth together into this bright new tuna-free world.
So where’s the silver lining here? Believe it or not, it rests with the US government.
We need you more than ever
Nearly a month ago, I wrote a short post about how Dr. Jane Lubchenco, the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), had passed on Monaco’s proposal and threw her support behind ICCAT with the proviso that ICCAT set “responsible science-based quotas,” among other instructions. Clearly, the Commission did not adhere to this directive. As such, it is now Dr. Lubchenco’s responsibility to live up to her promise and champion Monaco’s proposal to grant the Northern bluefin tuna protection under CITES Appendix 1. And it is our responsibility, as stewards and citizens of this planet, to show her our support.
I urge all who read this to send an email to Dr. Jane Lubchenco at Jane.Lubchenco@noaa.gov reminding her to rise to the occasion and stand up for the bluefin tuna. ICCAT clearly cannot do so, regardless of the clarity and quantity of science that would justify such action. It is time to cast off the trappings of this useless, obsolete Commission and to try something that will actually work.
Additional background on this issue can be found in a previous post.
Have you ever seen one of those high-budget crime flicks where a bunch of slick dudes go out and rob a bank?
It starts with a group of chiseled Hollywood 30-somethings cocooned in tailored suits, driving fancy cars and armed with enough sexy crime tech to make even the most jaded geek swoon. There’s the compulsory uber-coolness sequence where they’re slow-motion strutting out of a building, all wearing expensive shades and silk ties, oozing style. Then there’s the heist scene, a spitfire collage of action shots and staccato sound effects that raises your heart rate and stretches your eyelids up past your forehead. Finally, the smoke clears on an empty bank vault, with a bunch of bumbling police officers looking at one another in confusion, and their mustachioed, hard-boiled lieutenant staring into the middle distance, clenching his jaw in impotent fury.
Invariably, these smooth criminals now need to liquidate their ill-gotten gains so they can flee to some non-extradition paradise festooned with string bikinis and mai tai umbrellas. Problem is, the cash is easily traceable – so they go for something else.
Bearer bonds. Raw diamonds. Postage stamps. They find one of those funny ways to steal money that won’t get them reeled in by Interpol or by some twitchy, obsessive FBI agent that has willfully exceeded his jurisdiction in order to bring his better-looking, cooler, and smarter nemeses to justice. Finally, there’s the scene at the bar of the expensive resort in Montenegro or Caracas, where the government agent sidles up to the criminal and informs him that sure, he’s out of his jurisdiction, but he knows what’s going on and will make sure that so-and-so suffers for his misdeeds….
That's the stuff
… sorry, I’m digressing. I meant to stop at the point where I said “bearer bonds.”
The reason I’m bringing this up is because there’s a point of commonality here between this stamped cellulose lucre and much of the fish that one can find everyday at the local sushi bar. Both are, for the purposes of everyday commerce, untraceable.
Much of the seafood swirling about the sushi industry chain of custody is “black box” fish. It passes through so many hands, is processed and repackaged so many times, and languishes in the bellies of so many cargo planes that its history is lost. Discerning where the fish is actually from becomes an impossible task. When they’ve finally finished ricocheting around the planet, these poor animals have accumulated enough frequent flyer miles to upgrade to first class on that final trip to your dinner plate.
Living in the present
International labeling laws tend to make things even worse. Generally, a fish product is only required to list the last point at which there was value-addition (a change in formatting – repackaging, processing, cooking, etc.) This process wipes out and redrafts the history of the fish as if it were on etch-a-sketch in the hands of a kindergartener with ADHD.
Thus do we have fish landing on sushi counters without any indication of their checkered pasts. A good example is the ubiquitous tako, the mottled purple octopus whose severed tentacles adorn sushi bars across the planet.
This precise Japanese term for this species of octopus (Octopus vulgaris) is madako, or “true octopus.” This multi-limbed wonder is caught all over the world, but some of the most productive fishing is traditionally done off the coast of North Africa in Moroccan, Mauritanian, and Senegalese waters.
Swimming towards ignominy
The problem here (beyond the fact that this octopus is largely bottom trawled from flagging populations with little management) is that the world’s tako chain of custody bottlenecks in Japan. Octopus is not simply yanked out of the water to be immediately slapped down on a sushi bar, as is the case with numerous other fish. Rather, octopus has to be properly blanched, seasoned, and packaged for travel. This takes place in Japan, where there is an entire industry based around octopus processing. The world’s octopus trawl fleets capture the animals, kill them, and ship them off to Japan where they are all mixed together in enormous processing facilities. The octopus is prepared for use in sushi through a method that involves hot water, vinegar, and copious amounts of plastic. This process strips each octopus of its individuality, creating an amorphous melange of tentacles that is then re-exported and disseminated to sushi bars throughout the world, bearing stickers that read: “Product of Japan.”
But it’s not really from Japan, is it? And by the time it arrives in the United States, neither the broker who imported the octopus, the seafood distributor who trucked it to a restaurant, nor the chef who chopped it up for a salivating sushi fan is able to trace it to its source. Any knowledge of original home of the octopus has been lost, wiped from history as cleanly as a child’s carefree sand scrawls are erased by a rising tide.
So if we need to know the original source of the fish to determine stock status and management rigor, and we need to know about stocks and management to determine the sustainability of a given seafood option, how do we deal with tako and other black box products? How can we make educated choices to promote sustainable fisheries if we can’t even tell where the fish is from?
This is the curse of the black box. It is a general dearth of information at the final point of sale that is enabled by ineffective trade protocol and labeling laws. It is a black hole languishing in the center of the world of seafood, drawing shipping receipts, landing logs, and other data into its gravity well, engaged in a perpetual implosion that disposes of fact and history more efficiently than an armada of paper shredders set upon the National Archives.
It falls upon us to apply the precautionary principle in these situations. If we cannot adequately defend a hypothesis stating that the dish is a sustainable option, we must assume the opposite. A precautionary approach to our marine resources will allow us to protect our planet by giving our oceans, rather than the fishing industry, the benefit of the doubt. This is how we avenge the dodo.
Below is a non-exhaustive list of sushi items that commonly fall into the black box:
Anago (Sea eel)
Unagi (Freshwater eel)
Tobiko (Flying fish roe)
Toro (Bluefin tuna belly)
Processing bottlenecks, weakness in labeling, and IUU (pirate) fishing all contribute to the strength and volume of the black box. Consumer patronage of black box seafood has an extremely detrimental impact on our oceans. Please exercise extreme caution when considering any of the above options at the sushi bar.
Nice slice of paradise
Monaco-Ville, also known as Le Rocher (the Rock), is a tiny little town tucked inside the tiny little pleasure garden that is the sovereign nation of Monaco. Comprising about one tenth of the total area of the Riviera’s pocket Principality, this little hamlet is home to just over a thousand souls – many of them extremely rich. One resident in particular has achieved an astonishing degree of fame and fortune, merely by being the son of his equally diamond-encrusted parents: His Serene Highness Albert Grimaldi II, the Sovereign Prince of Monaco.
Albert Grimaldi’s home, the Prince’s Palace of Monaco, is a mansion of celestial stature that adorns the highest point in Monaco-Ville like a diamond tiara atop a prom queen. It is a place of both breathtaking beauty and incalculable real estate value. Still, despite his lavish digs and lofty title, Prince Albert and his Robin Leach-baiting lifestyle would not normally interest me (well, at least not for the purposes of this blog, but… I mean, come on, Grace Kelly was the guy’s mom. How can my curiosity not be at least a little piqued?) However, Prince Albert is not your everyday European kazillionaire blueblood head-of-state celebrity jet-setter.
Turns out he’s a European kazillionaire blueblood head-of-state celebrity jet-setter environmentalist.
The royal seal?
Prince Albert is no slouch when it comes to saving the planet. He has worked diligently to dismantle the Monaco Zoo, repatriate the animals into the wild, and transform the facility into a children’s park (although he does keep two nerpa seal pups which were presented to him by the Russian governor of Irkutsk). He served as the patron of the Year of the Dolphin, a title given to the year 2007 (and later extened to 2008) by the United Nations. He even took a trip to visit 26 different bases and research facilities in Antarctica to learn about the effects of climate change on the ice-clad continent. Still, this was all just a prologue to what the Prince did about a month ago.
In June of 2009, Prince Albert co-authored a letter to the Wall Street Journal with Charles Clover, the author of The End of the Line. In the letter, the Prince openly decried the annual embarrassment that is the European Union bluefin quota. He also acknowledged that the species is indeed endangered and that it merits legal protection rather than the unchecked over-exploitation it is suffering at present.
He concluded his regal communiqué with a masterstroke – a formal announcement that Monaco will propose to have Mediterranean bluefin listed as an endangered species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
Not exactly life-size
The challenge has been that most people are unaware of how amazing this animal really is. Most people have never seen a bluefin tuna, as these majestic creatures spend their lives swimming in the deep blue currents of the Atlantic ocean. Most don’t know that if you let a bluefin tuna reach full maturity, they can weigh over 1000 pounds and exceed 10 feet in length. The actual percentage of the global population that has ever seen a living bluefin tuna up close is too small to calculate.
As such, the country of Monaco, with its population of just over 30,000, is little more than a village on the international stage, but has nevertheless set a tremendous precedent here. Under the guidance of its monarch, Monaco stepped up and took a stand against a barbaric and unconscionable practice that is occurring just a scant few miles from its glitterati-strewn shores. A nation that is only rarely awarded delineation on a schoolbook map had taken a position at odds with those historically espoused by its comparatively gargantuan neighbors, its most important trade partners, and nearly every other country in the world.
A month later, the world was able to see Monaco as the leader it truly is.
Brothers in bluefin
On July 16th, 2009, le President lui-meme, M. Nicholas Sarkozy, announced that France, too, would be seeking to list Mediterranean bluefin under CITES. This was a tremendous blow to the bluefin industry; while Monaco is neither an EU member nor a powerful enough state to pose a threat at the Convention meetings, France is both. To compound the impact, later in the same day – a day which could be called “Thunnus Thursday” – a similar proclamation rang out in the streets of London. Huw Irranca-Davies, Minister of Fisheries for the United Kingdom, declared that the UK would join France and Monaco in support of this noble goal.
While it is too early to predict the full ramifications of these events, it is extremely likely that the next CITES Conference – currently scheduled to be held in Qatar in March 2010 – will be quite a pyrotechnic show. Countries like Japan and Spain have invested tremendous amounts of money in the Mediterranean bluefin fishery, and are predicted to vociferously oppose the listing.
So what can we do as individuals to support the actions of Monaco, France, and the UK? How can we make our voices heard above the din of the political machine that is propelling the bluefin towards utter extinction?
Get him on board
Step One: Urge the USA to Join Monaco, France, and the UK. The world looked on as France and the UK rallied to Monaco’s call and formally announced their support to list the Mediterranean bluefin tuna as an endangered species. Now we as American consumers need to show our support by urging the US government to join France, the UK and Monaco in moving to protect the bluefin.
Action: Sign this on-line petition to support the USA joining France, UK and Monaco.
- Step Two: Make smart choices when you eat fish. Not all tuna species are endangered. Consumers can still buy tuna, both canned and fresh, and not contribute to the demise of our oceans. Look for tuna that is taken from healthy and well-managed populations, and that is caught in sustainable and environmentally benign methods. The same applies to sushi. You can still eat delicious sushi and make smart choices.
Action: Check blogs like Sustainable Sushi for ideas on making smart sushi choices at the sushi bar. Visit Seafood Watch to learn more about what seafood options are sustainable, and Greenpeace for a rundown of which seafood retailers are responsible.
- Step Three: Practice catch & release. If you enjoy sportfishing for tuna, especially bluefin tuna,
"I'll be back"
consider practicing catch and release. One can have all the thrills of offshore sportfishing and still release these trophy fish to live another day. In fact, anglers and charter boats can join a catch and release program that gives these environmentally aware fishermen recognition and incentive for releasing bluefin tuna back into the ocean.
Action: Practice catch and release if you fish recreationally.
- Step Four: Have a voice – join the conservation community. There are thousands of other people who care about the bluefin tuna. If you want to meet others who care and have a voice or ask a question simply look online. There are social networks, research sites and eating guides that are easily found. Additionally, one of the most powerful things one can do is to simply tell your friends about this watershed issue. If you are on Twitter, tweet about your concern. If you are on Facebook, tell your friends how they can help. If you blog, blog about bluefin. You will find many people that are eager to learn and supportive of this most important cause.
Action: Get involved, sign up and voice your concern.
- Step Five: Support critical research. Learning about how these amazing tuna behave and breed is critical if we are to enact successful management policies. Support for bluefin research is needed now more than ever.
Action: Check out the Tag A Giant Foundation, where you can learn about the work that’s been done by some of the world’s foremost marine scientists. The members of this crew have dedicated their lives to bluefin research and are borderline fanatical in their devotion to the animal. A good group.
Follow the leader
If we are to save these gentle giants, the time is now. Monaco, France and the UK are giving the bluefin a chance, and it is up to the rest of the world to continue the momentum. We have the power to save the mighty bluefin, but only if our voices unite to demand it.
As for Prince Albert, none of this would have happened without his insight, his courage, and the small but undeniable voice of his Lilliputian homeland. Sometimes it really does take a village to change the world (thanks, Hillary.)
This article was co-authored by John LoGioco and Casson Trenor.
Net full of problems
Anyone who has seen one of my presentations or endured my presence on a panel has probably heard me lambaste bluefin tuna ranching. I often employ a hackneyed analogy to describe this phenomenon by equating ranching bluefin to “farming tigers.” The reasoning behind this has to do with the position that bluefin occupies in the oceanic food web. Bluefin tuna are top carnivores in the watery realms, and thus are similar to the great cats and other apex predators here on terra firma.
The point here is simple: we don’t farm great cats. Not just because they don’t taste good (although I can’t imagine that they do), but because it makes exactly zero sense from the perspective of an agriculturist. A tiger farmer would have to raise or purchase grass or grain to feed herbivores (such as cows), raise and fatten the cows, and then slaughter the cows to feed the tigers. The amount of salable protein generated by butchering the tigers would be only a fraction of what the farmer could realize by butchering and selling the cows (not to mention how much more efficient it would be to simply sell the grain itself for human consumption.)
There are two differences between a bluefin ranch and a theoretical tiger farm from a markets perspective. The first is demand. Aside from a peripheral black market, based primarily in China, that values the penis and gall bladder of the animal for pseudo-medicinal purposes, there is no demand for tiger flesh. Bluefin, unfortunately, is struggling under the weight of tremendous demand driven by a rapidly expanding sushi industry.
The second difference is the legal recognition (and a strong social awareness) of the animal’s plight. All of the world’s tiger subspecies are, lamentably, endangered at best. Ironically, the charisma of the tiger and the widespread awareness of its unenviable situation has earned it a tremendous amount of support in the form of global conservation effort. In fact, the tiger was voted the “world’s favorite animal” in a 2005 survey by Animal Planet (even defeating such lovable competitors as the dog and the dolphin.)
The bluefin tuna has no such succor. It is a migratory oceanic species and thus extremely difficult to protect through national legislation. International agreements such as ICCAT continue to fail to address the actual issues threatening the species (overfishing, bycatch, etc.) Moreover, while this animal is fascinating and extremely charismatic to those fortunate few who have interacted with it, the bluefin still suffers from the “it’s just a fish” veil of dismissal that keeps us at arm’s length from many of our ocean’s most awe-inspiring denizens.
Feeding food to food
The point of all this is to say that while we would never consider farming tigers as a protein source, we farm bluefin in great numbers, despite their relatively equivalent positions in their respective ecosystems. It’s an incredibly resource-intensive task to farm a bluefin. For every salable pound of tuna that comes out of a bluefin farm, up to twenty-five pounds of wild fish (often sardines and anchoveta from unmanaged fisheries) have gone in as feed. To make matters worse, bluefin are only very rarely reared ex ovo; traditionally, the juveniles are purloined from the wild and transferred to pens for fattening. Thus, every tuna that one purchases from a bluefun tuna farm is actually a wild tuna that never had an opportunity to breed. Needless to say, the world’s wild bluefin tuna populations are shadows of their former selves. The bluefin is, for all intents and purposes, an endangered species. Yet we continue to devour it without compunction.
Things seem bleak, indeed. And it is from this stark landscape that a new player has arisen, with a plan to ease the pressure.
Hawaii Oceanic Technology, a Honolulu-based company, is aiming to create a new tuna farm that instead of adding to the woes of the bluefin, will focus on one of it’s relatives: Thunnus obesus, the bigeye tuna. Ostensibly, this will lessen the overall pressure on bluefin by offering a similar fish to appease market demand.
Net pen aquaculture
While bluefin is generally fattened in inshore net pens, Hawaii Oceanic intends to construct an offshore farm, located about three miles off the coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. One of the potential advantages of offshore aquaculture is that it is thought to reduce the impact of waste by allowing effluent to diffuse through a much deeper water column. The revolutionary Kona Blue operation, similarly located in Hawaii, utilizes this principle in its production of Seriola rivioliana, which it markets as “Kona Kampachi.”
While there is still a pronounced paucity of evidence regarding this hypothesis, it seems to be based on reasonable assumptions, and I don’t want to dwell on it as I feel there are three other, more important issues at stake. Additionally, the prototype “Oceanspheres” that Hawaii Oceanic are developing for use as fish enclosures are really quite impressive — especially their use of OTEC (ocean thermal energy conversion) technology, which is a virtually untapped renewable energy resource. I’m very interested to see where this leads.
Anyhow, back to the issues at hand.
Sexy sexy tuna belly
First off: market demand. Bigeye tuna, known as mebachi in Japanese, is indeed a source of tuna fillets, fatty belly cuts, etc. But to be frank, mebachi toro is simply not as alluring as honmaguro (bluefin) toro. As a matter of fact, the best replacement that I have found for the buttery, supple taste and texture of bluefin belly is high-quality shiromaguro toro – a belly cut from the albacore, bluefin’s much smaller cousin. I am not alone in my beliefs here. Sure, mebachi is still a much-demanded fish, but will it really affect the demand for bluefin?
The second issue is feed. As I mentioned before, farming bluefin is a protein-hungry business. Why would farming bigeye be any different? Hawaii Oceanic states that their goal is to eventually replace the fish used in the feed process with soy or an algae-based protein source, but that they will need to use fish meal at first.
Certainly one has to begin any new venture in stages… but how long are we talking about? There is no need for another fish-based tuna farm. There was never any environmental benefit to these operations in the first place. If indeed it were a farm fed entirely from sustainable sources, that would potentially change the equation — but there’s a big word between now and then, and that word is “eventually.” The lack of a hard timetable here casts some doubt on the rosy picture that Hawaii Oceanic has painted.
The final issue is the sourcing of the fish itself. One of the major problems with bluefin farms is that the fish are taken as juveniles from flagging wild stocks. Hawaii Oceanic pledges to surmount this obstacle by hatching bigeye from eggs in a controlled facility. These fry would then be transferred to the offshore pens for rearing.
"Mommy, where does tuna come from?"
This is a good plan, if it can be achieved. In essence, by allowing the company to breed tuna from a small clutch of broodstock rather than abducting wild fish, they can produce tuna without major detrimental impacts to the local populations (at least from a sourcing perspective.) But can they do it?
The A-Marine Kindai bluefin operation in Japan has managed to create a system where they hatch their fish in a similar manner. This type of aquaculture, known as “closed life cycle farming,” is certainly a step in the right direction. But is it missing the point?
Wow! Four pounds of fish in a convenient three-ounce package
Even if this kind of thing ends up working, we’re still dealing with an apex predator, and thus eating very high on the food chain. When trophic dynamics are considered, it becomes clear that the amount of energy demanded from natural (or, in this case, quasi-natural) cycles to produce something like a farmed tuna dwarfs the actual amount of protein received by the consumer. Farming this kind of animal is reinforcing a negative paradigm that has been held as gospel in the North American diet for far too long. Moreover, tuna do not have the fish oils and the omega-3s that many smaller, cold-water fish (such as mackerel and sardines) do, nor do they reproduce as quickly. Not to mention that this type of aquaculture is never going to “feed the world” — it’s simply too expensive.
Now that's progress!
While Hawaii Oceanic may be attempting to build a better mousetrap with this theoretical bigeye farm, we may be swapping tigers for lions. It we want a harmonious and sustainable relationship with the world’s oceans, it will take more than finding a way to create larger amounts of what the market currently demands. We need to be willing to significantly alter the way that we think about food, and I’m not sure how much of a change a bigeye farm really represents.
Well, by this time, the radio spot is already over. I should have probably posted this a few days ago, but hey, I’ll make the best of it.
Rachael Myrow of KQED sat down a couple of weeks back for an interview with Geoff Shester and Stephanie Danner of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, and invited me to tag along. It was a great experience. The piece was aired this morning (Feb 13th) on KQED in San Francisco, and KZOR in the Monterey Bay area.
I consider myself very fortunate to count both Geoff and Stephanie among my colleagues in the ocean conservation movement; they’re both brilliant scientists and have a great deal to teach.
But best of all… they’re huge Tataki fans!
I can’t express what an incredible thrill it is to hear representatives from the Monterey Bay Aquarium express their approval of what Kin, Raymond, Gretchen, and and the rest of the Tataki Sushi and Sake Bar family have done here in San Francisco. I mean, this is Seafood Watch — these are the gods and goddesses of sustainable seafood! So I’m a little humbled today… but I’ve also been strutting around down with a stupid grin on my face for the past several hours.
Anyhow, about the spot:
Rachael asked a lot of questions about bluefin tuna. In fact, I think the piece was originally intended to be mainly focused on bluefin. When it aired, though, it had transformed into something much broader.
Bluefin tuna is an extraordinarily important topic: an iconic fish that embodies both the awesome lifeforce of the ocean, as well as the heart-stopping peril in which our waters find themselves. That being said, Rachael veered from what would have been a concentrated piece on bluefin (similar to the excellent recent work of Alastair Bland in the Santa Cruz Metro) and broadened her focus considerably to discuss seafood sustainability in general.
I think it’s commendable for KQED to approach this issue from such a holistic perspective. It’s important to see the ocean not as a collection of individual fish and organisms, but as a living, interwoven fabric. All the animals and plants of the ocean are intermingled. The majestic bluefin tuna is incredibly important, sure, but the homely urchin, the tiny nudibranch, and even the drifting aquatic weeds of the Sargasso are equally integral to the health of our oceans.
Thanks, Rachael, for your interest, and for helping us put it all in perspective.
You can listen to the radio spot here.