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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Don't be like this guy - educate yourself about sushi.

The other day on the Face-Book one of my brothers was all "Hey man, I ate some tuna, hope it was OK LOL LOL."

Mistake. There's no "LOL" involved when it comes to tuna. I immediately disowned him and wrote him out of my will, which, since his name is Will, was a bit confusing grammatically. Luckily it's no skin off my teeth as he was one of the minor brothers. He played no major role.
And good riddance to you, sir.

Don't let this happen to you! Educate yourself before your next trip to the sushi restaurant.


Seriously now. As many of you know, the burgeoning demand for sushi is a major driver for a host of threats to marine ecosystems.

The issue is most obviously crystallized in the plight of the mighty bluefin tuna. The bluefin is one of those rare organisms that demands awe from dullards and the pointy-headed alike, due to its sheer physical presence and superior technical specifications. I'm proof - I'm the worst combination of dullard and pointy-head, and seeing my first big bluefin at sea just about knocked the wind out of me. If there really is a deity that started everything, you can bet that the bluefin occupies a prominent place on that deity's resume.

And then there's us. And we're pushing the bluefin to the brink because we like to eat its belly. It's usually called toro, and it is considered by many to be a pinnacle of the sushi experience: even the noted sustainable sushi warrior Casson Trenor confesses, in language barely safe for a workplace, to a forbidden love for the taste and the texture. However, severe overfishing has pushed two of the three bluefin tuna species to the edge of extinction: the southern bluefin (Thunnus maccoyii;  "Critically Endangered" on the IUCN Red List), and the Atlantic bluefin (Thunnus thynnus; eastern and western stocks are "Endangered" and "Critically Endangered", respectively). There are also substantial concerns about the status of Pacific bluefin (Thunnus orientalis), but there are insufficient data to assess them. (Download Monterey Bay Aquarium's report on bluefin here). 

 The troubles with sushi do not begin and end with bluefin, however. Wild stocks of freshwater eel - the animal behind the popular sushi item unagi - are imperiled around the world, and farmed eel comes with a host of its own environmental problems, which makes unagi an all-around no-go for the thinking sushi lover. The same goes for hamachi (amberjack) - there aren't any good sources for that, either. Still others, including ebi (shrimp) and sake (salmon), may come from good sources - but all too often also originate from unsustainable fisheries or aquaculture operations. Farmed shrimp imported from outside of North America are particularly nasty: shrimp farming operations clear away mangroves and then repay this ill deed by subsequently dumping their substantial wastes back into the the ecosystem. Luckily, for ebi and sake there are some basic rules of thumb - as in thumbs down for tiger prawns, thumbs way down for farmed salmon, but thumbs way up for wild-caught B.C. spot prawns.

Yes, it may seem a bit overwhelming at first, but there really is a  link between your sushi choices, the dishes served at your restaurant, and demand for different species. Lack of consumer awareness allows - and encourages - unsustainable sourcing for sushi restaurants. Strong consumer knowledge not only drives sustainable sourcing, but also rewards those restaurants and sushi chefs - like Seattle's Hajime Sato, below - who make bold commitments to sustainable sushi.

Educate yourself, starting here: 
  1. Get a pocket guide to sustainable sushi: SeaChoice's awesome sushi guide
  2. Check out Casson Trenor's excellent site, Sustainablesushi.net
  3. Check out this new video in which Hajime Sato, owner of Seattle's Mashiko restaurant, discusses his transition to offering only sustainable sushi, and the reasons behind it. He does not sugarcoat the challenge that he faced or that we all face. 

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    P.S. For the benefit of my brother: he really did ask me about tuna on Facebook, but being a very bright and concerned individual he did not do anything else that I accused him of doing here. He definitely didn't write "LOL".  And to my knowledge, he doesn't walk around with nicely combed hair, tennis rackets, and sweaters draped over his shoulders unless he's going as a 'misogynist' for Halloween.

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