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October 17, 2006

Japan agrees to halve tuna catch


MMmmmm, Maguro, originally uploaded by whileseated.

Bad news for sushi lovers, but good news for the environment: Japan admits that its tuna fleet is overfishing and agrees to halve its catch of southern bluefin tuna.

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Talk about supply and demand...

An act of environmental statesmanship.

Overfishing is an immense problem, and the growing worldwide popularity of sushi (which I also love) isn't helping at all.

Good for Japan.

If it has to be, it has to be. But I'm getting sushi for dinner this week.

I love sushi so I do not want to run out of fish.

Here in South Louisiana the shrimping industry is in shambles because of over fishing. Surprisingly, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have helped.

It all comes down to to many people and too much greed and a global economy which can make money moving product to markets around the world.

If the people on this earth can't control themselves and learn how to do globalism in a sustainable way... forget sushi... we will whither away in a toxic soup of our own creation.

It’s about time. Eating either northern or southern bluefin tuna is pretty much the like eating trumpeter swans or Galapagos tortoises. I’m not sure how much good this will actually do. Bluefin tuna meat has become the gastronomical equivalent of ivory. As long as single fish fetch thousands of dollars in the Tokyo fish markets, it’s hard to see how anything short of a complete cessation of consumption will help. Northern bluefin stocks are toast and southern bluefin are rapidly headed that way. When these fish are as valuable as they are, and the marketing infrastructure is set up to airship bluefin overnight to Japan from wherever they’re caught, the pressure to catch bluefin is enormous. Picture yourself an Indonesian skipper on a boat longlining for yellowfin or bigeye tuna. You’re barely making the mortgage for the boat and you pull up a bluefin. The fish is immediately iced, the rest of the longline is pulled aboard, and the boat immediately heads for shore. It’s like pulling gold bullion aboard – worth sacrificing the next day’s yellowfin catch to get the bluefin bycatch ashore. You’ll also remember where, at what depth, with what bait, and at what time of year you caught the fish, and you’ll make good use of that information.

Bluefin are no longer canned, they’re not consumed by people who need more protein in their diet. Bluefin tuna is a luxury item, period. Considering that yellowfin tuna is an acceptable substitute, there’s barely any justification for eating bluefin. If you want fatty tuna meat, eat yellowfin tuna bellies; not as firm as bluefin, but still very, very good.

I stopped eating bluefin when a friendly conservation biologist told me about this problem.

Is the salmon in sushi okay? I'm still eating that.

British Columbia and Alaskan salmon stocks in very good shape, northern Atlantic and US Pacific NW stocks far less so.

Would not know where sushi restaurants buy their salmon--probably farmed, an issue in itself.

Canned Alaskan salmon certainly not sushi grade but it is I think always wild, from the healthy Alaskan runs, a good and cheap way to get your share of a very healthy food.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a nice guide
to selecting seafood with conservation in mind.

Having lived and worked on Japanese fishing boats, I know I could live on fish for the rest of my life and be perfectly happy. If it comes from the ocean, I’ll almost certainly like it. It’s heartbreaking to know that fish I used to eat all the time are suffering, though there are still many species that can be eaten without killing them off. But then, to me a can of brisling sardines is as good as a swordfish steak.

There is a fish Lindsay, being from B.C., might be familiar with called eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus ). They’re an anadromous smelt, i.e. they hatch in fresh water and live as adults in the ocean. They’re a bit mysterious, spawning in huge shoals one year and gone the next, without any apparent reason. They’re small, greasy (also called “candlefish”), and cooked in a pan they’re just ho-hum. Smoked though, they’re to die for. You hold the fish by the tail, bite off the head, then eat the whole thing: bones, guts, sand and all and wash it down with beer. They range from the N. Calif. to Alaska and are available only in season (spring) and are eaten only locally. If you get a chance to eat smoked eulachon, for God’s sake don’t pass it up.

Oolichans, of course!

I can't say I was ever a big fan, but oolichan grease isn't a smell you forget easily.

My dad's best friend was a commercial fisherman for many years. I think he fished for shad sometimes.

Oolichans!

Oh those crazy Canadians; just won't accept proper American spelling.

I guess I should relate a story about shad here. American shad Alosa sapidissima were brought from the East coast to the West Coast in the late 19th Cent. and have thrived here as they dwindled in their native range. In the Columbia River shad have become so abundant that they may actually constitute a problem for native fish.

As a fisheries biologist working on the Columbia River, I spend some time around boat ramps along said river. A few years ago I was at a boat ramp across the river from the upriver exit of the fish ladder at one of the major Columbia R. dams which at the time was disgorging tens of thousands of shad. Indians had been granted permission to surround the ladder exit with netting and dip the shad out into boats which ferried them across the river to waiting refrigerator trucks. Two of my women colleagues walked over to the boat ramp and asked the white guys who were loading the trucks with a forklift where all the shad were going. They were told the shad were destined for “the oriental market”. An hour or so later I went over and asked the same question. Taking me for the redneck I just happen to look like, they said that the fish were bound for “fagtown”. “Huh?” “Yeah, fagtown. You know, San Francisco. They’re for the gooks. Those fucker’s ‘ll eat anything.” I thanked them and went back to work.

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