You know how interviewers sometimes ask, “If you could have lunch with absolutely anyone, who would it be?” Most people answer, “Albert Einstein, “Beyonce,” or “Jesus.” But my list includes Jean- Michel Cousteau, Carl Safina, and Sylvia Earle. Though I’ve not yet lunched with any of these unflagging fish fans, I’ve actually met all of them (not to brag or anything).
When I met Dr. Sylvia Earle, a Duke marine science graduate and the pioneer of deep water exploration, she signed my copy of her book The World is Blue, “Go Blue Devils!” She has likely done more than nearly any one to create marine protected areas and to help us understand what lies in that blue mass that covers 70% of our globe.
So, when I wracked my brain and my Google search function for answers to my friends’ questions regarding whether or not they can eat sushi (at least when I’m at the table with them), I thought to ask Sylvia Earle. And she answered – FAST!
She didn’t only teach me about sushi but about food systems and dietary choices overall. That’s a lot of info, so for this entry, we’ll just start with tuna. Here’s what Earle has to say on that:
“Generally, I suggest people think of fish as they think of birds. People eat a lot of birds — Kentucky Fried, holiday turkeys, Peking duck . . .all fast growing, farmed herbivores. Owls, eagles, hawks and other predators are typically not hunted for food, although they are not nearly as high on the food chain as tunas, swordfish and sharks.
To make a pound of year-old chicken it takes about two pounds of plants; to make a pound of a ten year old tuna takes tens of thousands of pounds of plants at the end of a long and complex food chain. Tunas at one year are still pretty small.
Although fast-growing, at six most barely qualify for catching, and according to Barbara Block, tuna expert from Stanford, bluefin tuna do not begin to reproduce until they are 10 to 14 years old. The 494 pound bluefin that recently sold in Tokyo for $1.8 million may not have reached reproductive age.”
Below is one of my favorite infographic videos illustrating this principle, and it’s referencing fish that only require 2 to 6 years to reach reproductive maturity!
So, not only is it difficult for tuna stocks to recover from industrial tuna fishing practice, but such practice also hurts vast amounts of ecosystem and also seafood-based economies.Industrial tuna fishing uses purse seine nets and long lines; both result in huge amounts of by-catch including sea turtles, dolphins, whales, sharks and much more. Purse seine nets stretch for miles and could hold six 747 jets. Industrial long-lines can stretch as many as 60 miles and hold thousands of hooks. They are one of the primary threats to sea turtles. And to really put things in perspective, although these fishing methods are intended to catch skipjack tuna, 30% of what they catch is by-catch that gets killed and just tossed back into the sea.
Furthermore, wealthy nations like the U.S., Spain, and Taiwan capitalize on “high seas pockets,” ocean areas lying beyond territorial waters. This means that their industrial fishing vessels can operate without limits or access fees. This not only means LOTS of bycatch but it also means that “the largely tuna-based economies of nearby Pacific islands take a huge hit as a result.”
This editorial from the New York Times offers a particularly quick and rich resource for understanding more about the status of the tuna industry worldwide.
So, I guess part of the conclusion to the sushi question is this: avoid any sushi that includes tuna. I like to order the vegetarian sushi in which crispy fried tofu is substituted for tuna or other unsustainably caught seafood.
Anyway, for me, sushi is just an excuse to have something on which to spread wasabi and pickled ginger. So, I’ve started incorporating these flavors in other non-fishy recipes such as deviled eggs. Get the recipe here.
But for you die-hard sushi junkies who have to remain purist, there are other palatable options:
3. This great blog from Casson Trenor is one of the best resources for staying informed regarding overfishing within the Sushi industry and for locating delicious alternatives to unsustainably caught seafood. Casson also includes an uber-handy restaurant map of places that serve sustainably caught seafood.
He’s only just starting to collect data, so if you have a favorite place that’s conscious about what they serve, be sure to connect them with this tool.
My wish: that more restaurants will envy eateries that get extra fresh promo for serving only wild caught/sustainably caught seafood and that they will follow suit as a result.