The statistics speak for themselves. The Bluefin tuna population is in steady and dramatic decline, caused mostly by over-fishing around the world. According to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICAAT), “the eastern Atlantic’s stocks of fish old enough to reproduce declined by 80 percent between 1970 and 1992 and have since fluctuated between 21 percent and 29 percent of the 1970 level.” Then why did the US just decline to grant endangered species status to the Bluefin when the species is in such spectacular decline?
After working on “Sushi to the Slaughter” (premiering July 12th), I came to realize how complex this issue is and that, amongst other factors, there are huge market forces keeping the Bluefin’s fate hanging in the balance. Had the tuna been classified as an endangered species, it would have made fishing for them in US waters illegal – a devastating blow tantamount to a nail in the coffin for inshore fisherman. Many believe that the administration’s decision was influenced by pressure from the US fishing industry.
This pressure only pales in comparison to the aggressive Japanese lobby that kept the UN from implementing an export ban on tuna last year. My trip to Japan’s Tsukiji fish market really drove home how important tuna is to the Japanese. In my opinion, this is an example ofwhen allowing normal market forces to fix a problem just won’t work. The Japanese will continue to pay ever-increasing prices for this fish until they are extinct. Just this past January, a new record was set – a 752-lbs tuna fetched a winning bid of $396,000! Beyond the economics, there are also cultural and sociological reasons that keep tuna consumption so high in Japan. Currently, Japan consumes 80 percent of the Bluefin catch.
However, this isn’t a Japanese nor an American issue, mostly because of the migratory nature of tuna. This majestic fish can accelerate faster than a Porsche and travels the world’s oceans at 55 mph. And until there are multilateral and international efforts to enforce fishing quotas etc., conservation is going to have begin at the consumer level – starting with me, a self-professed, tuna-obsessed, sushi lover.
Tune in for the premiere of “Sushi to the Slaughter” on Tuesday, July 18 at 9/8c on Current TV.
For more information, visit http://current.com/vanguard