October 1st is World Vegetarian Day, and for true vegetarians this means no meat eating, like chicken, turkey, pork or beef. Yet there is a lot of wiggle room (debate) about the definition of vegetarianism. Some people believe that vegetarians can eat fish, while others do not. Since Blue Ocean is an advocate for protecting and sustaining marine life, how could we celebrate what appears to be so opposed to our mission? Rather than get into the debate of what defines vegetarian, we instead ask the question, Can sushi be sustainable?
Whether you think it’s vegetarian or not, people still eat sushi. Tuna remains endangered. We are fishing out huge swaths of wild salmon. Alternatives are still available. We hope this article causes people to think before ordering seafood sushi, and choose sustainable alternatives. (photo – Alamy)
Blue Fin Tuna Numbers Down by 90%?
We have watched in horror as fish populations around the globe have dramatically declined. None have declined more precipitously than the numbers of Blue Fin Tuna, the most desirable of all delicacies to adorn a plate of sushi. Although estimates vary, some experts think Blue Fin numbers are down by 90%+. And the size of the fish caught today are tiny in comparison to the 800-lb monsters that were common not so long ago.
All experts agree that “tuna stocks are in serious decline, with too many boats chasing too few fish,” according to the Pew environment group. If the fishing of Blue Fin is not curtailed soon, we may see the extermination of this magnificent species. (photo – Reuters Issel Kato)
It’s not just Blue Fin that is in danger of flat-lining. If we continue to exploit our oceans at our current pace, all fish stocks could collapse by 2048. “If we’re not at the peak, we’re close to it,” says Lee Crockett, director of US Oceans at Pew Charitable Trust. “A bunch of species, we’re past the peak, we’ve overexploited them.”
As each species collapses, the world’s fishing industry moves to the next. This is a process called “serial over-fishing.” We have seen this with grouper and snapper as both species became severely over-fished.
Read a terrific article in Quartz: Barring a massive change in how we fish, there won’t be any sushi left by 2048 by Alden Wicker that covers many aspects of this important issue.
Choose Your Seafood from a Sustainable Seafood Guide
So how can we keep lovers of sushi happy and still preserve and allow to replenish the ocean’s severely depleted fish stocks? First we urge everyone to eat less fish and if they must then to make sustainable choices. There are many reputable lists that can guide and educate you to make better seafood choices. Here are four of the best:
Greenpeace’s Red List, gives twenty three species of fish that are not sustainable and should not be on the menu of your favorite restaurant. The Greenpeace website is interactive and very informative giving you the reasons why a fish is not sustainable.
SeaChoice.org has created “Canada’s Sustainable Sushi Guide” that offers good guidelines plus a handy, downloadable pocket guide to sustainable seafood.
The David Susuki Foundation offers its Sea Choice Seafood Guide. The Foundation also offers a sushi guide specifically for assisting sushi lovers in making sustainable choices.
The Monterrey Bay Aquarium’s Sea Food Watch program and its downloadable app “helps consumers and businesses choose seafood that’s fished or farmed in ways that support a healthy ocean, now and for future generations. [Their] recommendations indicate which seafood items are Best Choices or Good Alternatives, and which ones you should avoid.”
New and Sustainable Sushi Options
Sea Food Watch recommends that you explore some new and sustainable sushi flavors. Try these four. (photos – Sea Food Watch)
Sushi Chefs Need To Get Sustainable
Unfortunately, sushi chefs do not appear to be listening. When you check the menus of the highest-ranked sushi restaurants in New York City, they serve tuna and other sea creatures that are threatened like red snapper, goldeye, kohada and eel.
Nobu, possilby the most famous of Japanese restaurants with spin-offs in numerous American cities, infamously put a note on their menus several years ago asking their clients not to order Blue Fin Tuna. However, they did not remove it from their menu. (photo – ashleymarketplace.com)
Fish Stocks Can Recover But They Need Our Help
Dramatic declines in fish populations can be reversed, as is reported in Quartz. And the solution can be surprisingly straightforward. Let science determine sustainable limits and then enforce it. It’s the implementation where it gets sticky. For a decade, ICCAT, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna, ignored the science and allowed over-fishing to continue.
Finally in 2010 they reduced catch limits to the scientific recommendations and “here we are six years later and the stock has experienced significant growth. By next year it’s possible that it will be fully recovered,” says Shana Miller, director of the Ocean Foundation. “If we can reduce fishing pressure [bluefin tuna] will come back.”
This is another example of the success that a robust, consistent fisheries policy and the introduction of Marine Protected Areas can have in replenishing fish stocks. According to NOAA, the U.S. has seen 39 fish stocks rebuild themselves over the last twenty years. Over-fishing is now at its lowest level since record keeping began in 1997.
The bottom line is that you can enjoy your sushi but you also need to educate yourself. And use the great resources that are available to make sustainable choices for sushi and all of your seafood purchases.
By Bob Frerck, Blue Ocean Network
Related Blue Ocean Articles on Sustainable Sushi and Seafood: