In the sea of sustainable seafood — a movement where fish that are overfished are advised not to be consumed — Bluefin tuna is rocking the boat.
And sushi eaters might be to blame.
Bluefin tuna have an aggressive migratory pattern. Fast swimmers, they spawn in the Mediterranean Sea, and reside mostly off Newfoundland and Iceland, sometimes getting down to the Gulf of Mexico and crossing international boundaries within a year. This keeps fishermen on their toes, but the payoff is worth it: Bluefin tuna is commonly caught and sold for the purpose of crafting sushi and sashimi.
During the 1970s, just as gasoline prices soared, so did the cost of fresh Bluefin tuna. As it became more valuable, it also became more scarce. In fact, the number of mature Bluefin tuna in the Atlantic Ocean has plunged by 75 percent since the 1950s.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium added Bluefin tuna to its Seafood Watch do-not-eat list. One problem is that the commercial fishing industry is capturing Bluefin tuna within the world’s oceans and breeding them at record speed within highly contained areas on ranches — targeting the sushi industry. Another issue is this: captured in the wild, Bluefin tuna are sometimes confined and fattened before selling as a profit-making mechanism that is anything but humane. During 2009, the World Wildlife Federation released a statement that if Bluefin tuna continued to be overfished there would likely be “an irreversible collapse” of Northern bluefin by 2012.
Yet Bluefin tuna continues to pop up on sushi-restaurant menus, often with names like toro (tuna belly) or hon maguro.
On Tuesday, July 12, Current TV — in its investigative documentary-style series “Vanguard” — looks into the looming extinction of Bluefin tuna during the series’ third episode, “Sushi to the Slaughter.” In the episode, executive producer and correspondent Adam Yamaguchi, who is a Japanese American living in Los Angeles who admits to eating a lot of sushi, poses the question: Is the delicious taste of Bluefin tuna worth it?
Because Bluefin tuna are caught in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans and the Mediterranean Sea, it’s a global issue not tied to any one country. Tune in to the “Vanguard” series at 9 p.m. EST and see how you can help, perhaps starting with talking to your local sushi chef about viable fish alternatives.