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Shocking Seafood Fraud – Half of sushi in L.A. restaurants mislabelled

seafood fraud sushi

Our readers care about their own health, protecting our oceans, and getting what they pay for. These are three things that seafood fraud threatens. A recent study published by UCLA and Loyola Marymount University shows that the situation is more dire than we ever could have thought. While our tastebuds and eyes may be fooled, DNA analysis is much harder to trick. Roughly half of the sushi tested was mislabeled.

Halibut and red snapper are the two most fraudulently mislabeled fish. The researchers say that seafood fraud is not only constrained to restaurants, and that even purchasing fish from the grocery store can result in going home with a different species. When you look at the high prices that halibut commands, you can see how those engaging in fraudulent behavior are profiting immensely. Flounder is often replaced.

In the study, interestingly enough salmon and tuna were less often mislabeled. There are a few possible reasons for this. Is it more difficult to pass off other fish for salmon and tuna, because of the distinct flavors and colors? Or are these species more highly regulated? The Pacific fishing industry, for instance, is a highly regulated industry which is part of the Catch Certification Program.

It is a sad state of affairs when “almost always” getting what you pay for is in the upper echelon of reliability, but that is exactly where tuna is. While bluefin tuna was always exactly as ordered, yellowfin tuna was occasionally swapped for the at-risk bigeye tuna. Those of us who research ethical seafood choices before eating sushi are losing our autonomy of choice, swindled into dining on at-risk species. This shows an even darker side to sushi mislabeling. Where in some cases it is simply a matter of tricking customers to get a bigger profit, mislabeling at risk species is a way to get around environmental regulations.

One thing is clear. The program that we recently reported on, Seafood Import Monitoring Program is needed more now than ever before. People deserve to know what they are paying for. People deserve to be able to make ethical buying choices.

What is the solution to this problem? One solution would be to rely on both corporate responsibility which would allow consumers to respond with their wallets. While in most situations it is naive to rely on the well- being of corporations, the restaurant industry is one where consumers are very picky. A voluntary program where DNA testing is done on shipments, which in return would allow the restaurant to be certified as trustworthy, could sway the tide. Another option would be for more stringent government regulation, and increased programs like the Seafood Import Monitoring Program.

What do you think can be done about Seafood Mislabeling? We would love to hear your opinion in the comments below. Do you think you’ve ever been served mislabeled fish?

Fish personality test identifies aggressive fish in sole farming

Sole farming has a mix of aggressive and passive fish

In farming, including sole farming, different traits are more valuable. In a dairy farm, the cows that produce the most milk will be bred and encouraged. What may surprise you is that in sole farming, aggressive, pro-active fish grow faster and have higher reproductive success.

So how do you test if a fish is pro-active or not?

Tests in the past have relied on studying the body language of fish and trying to determine their personality. So what did these new researchers do?

1. Held the fish in a net in water for 90s and then in the air for 90s and marked the number of escape attempt.

2. Placed the fish into a new, smaller tank and measured how quickly they explore.

3. Flipped the fish over and recorded how long it takes to get right side up.

4. Sedated the fish and tested their plasma levels for markers of their coping styles.

5. Placed a new object in the sole’s environment (a square frame) and recorded how it takes the fish to pass through it.

6. Provided a safe, dark area and a unknown, lit area and tested how long it took fish to go from one to the other.

It seems as though passive fish are more apt to fare well in an environment that has predators. Their cautiousness and ability to adapt well to new environments makes them more suited to the wild. The aggressive, fearless fish fares well in a safe, farmed location where their natural lack of survival instincts is not a drawback.

How do these tests help sole farmers?

The aim of these tests was to provide an easily replicated way for fish farmers around the world to test the personality traits of their animals. In the past, tests required expert knowledge and more resources and had difficulty providing meaningful results.

Citation: : Ibarra-Zatarain Z, Fatsini E,Rey S, Chereguini O, Martin I, Rasines I, AlcarazC, Duncan N. 2016 Characterization of stresscoping style in Senegalese sole (Soleasenegalensis) juveniles and breeders foraquaculture. R. Soc. open sci. 3: 160495.http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsos.160495

Pope Francis urges action in the fishing industry

Pope Francis recently called for an international effort to fight trafficking and human rights issues in the fishing industry. Why does the fishing industry have so many problems with forced labor, slavery, and human rights abuse?

seafood-slavery

Fishing is dangerous work with few protections

Working in the fishery industry is naturally more dangerous than working in a comfortable office. But while we all know this, we do not understand the true dangers that affect workers in the industry globally. The fishing industry takes people out of their towns, cities and villages and requires them to work remotely, away from oversight and regulation. And the seasonal nature of many species means that companies need to squeeze out as much productivity as possible in a fishing season. This leads to a huge amount of work in a short period of time, and when so much money is on the line companies push their workers past the limit. This can mean continuing fishing operations in storms and harsh weather, leaving fishers exposed to the elements.

In the open ocean, fishers have less power. There are informal working practices that can lead to abuse by the companies that employ fishers. The work has little guarantees and is flexible in terms of time, giving the employers all of the power.

In a global industry, there is a race to the bottom in terms of prices. It is hard to imagine an industry more global than the fishing industry. In order to cut costs and increase profits, some vessels have deplorable living conditions for fishers. When you combine this with an informal work agreement, you can have fishers living in unsafe conditions for much longer than they agreed to initially.

And that is not the worst of it. Slavery, human trafficking, and forced child labor all plague the fishing industry.

The UN even states that there is instances of required drug use in workers, as they are given amphetamines to keep up with the inhumane level of work.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin calls the human rights abuse within the global fishing industry a “chain of exploitation.” So how are international governments reacting?

The ILO Convention will be essential to spearheading change in the future. The convention, written in 2007, has just now received the 10th ratification required to go into force a year from now as Lithuania signed onto the agreement.

The ILO Convention is designed to improve working conditions on small and large fishing vessels. These vessels will have to meet higher standards for living conditions for longer term trips.

International response is complex and slow

This also showcases the sluggish speed that international reactions work at. In a ten year span, most democratic nations will undergo political shifts. Priorities change for governments, and conventions can become outdated before they are even put into effect.

It will be over a decade between the time the Convention was first proposed and when it finally comes into force.

It is not just small vessels that have problems with forced labor. Cardinal Parolin had the following to say on the subject of massive fishing vessels that have the capability to stay out at sea for years at a time that use forced labor.

“For the crews it means living in degrading conditions and in confined spaces, in circumstances that are tantamount to detention, with their documents confiscated and, in only a few cases, returned after long periods of forced and underpaid labour.”

With the global nature of the fishing industry, international agreements and treaties are required to protect fishers. But is there any way for these agreements to work in a reasonable time frame? And what is happening to vulnerable people in the industry in the ten years it can take for a Convention to come into force?

Do you enjoy octopus sushi? We’ve got some bad news…

Those new to the delicious world of sushi usually start with California rolls or Alaska rolls. Some people will be even too hesitant to try anything with raw fish, and can be tempted into the world of sushi with tempura yam or futomaki rolls. But once you get a taste of the freshness of sushi, it usually does not take long for newcomers to want to taste sashimi. The most adventurous cannot help but to try something new like eel or delicious octopus. That’s been my experience with how people are introduced to sushi, but yours may vary. We’d love to hear if you were adventurous to try a more “exotic dish” your first time!

octopus-sushi-sashimi-price

If you enjoy octopus sushi, you know that it takes time and skill to prepare octopus for sushi. Octopus sashimi is a dish that takes expert level skill to cut the meat thin enough to be a pleasant experience to eat. Octopus sashimi is generally roughly around the same price as Sockeye Salmon or Toro sashimi (at least in Vancouver BC). But that might be changing soon.

Shortages of octopus are starting to hit hard

You can expect prices to start going up. Why? Supply and demand. More people are enjoying octopus sushi and sashimi, and there is less of it in the world. I’ve been keeping an eye on sushi grade octopus prices. So far, there has not been an increase. It’s very possible that the price could go up in the near future if the shortage continues. When you hear reports that some restaurants are having their orders cancelled, you get worried. This is not the first time that octopus demand has outstripped the supply. In 2011, poor catch in Africa lead to a shortage. Shortages seem to be cyclical for tako, as octopus procreate in such large amounts – as long as temperatures are warm and there is plenty of prey.

Japan is getting the worst of the price increase

Japan is known to have the best seafood and fresh sushi in the entire world. The huge demand for octopus in Japan combined with the falling value of the yen is hurting Japanese sushi lovers the most.

Have you seen octopus prices rising, or it being taken off the menu at your favorite sushi restaurant? Please let us know in a comment below.

The Guardian’s Sept 15, 2016 panel on slavery in the seafood industry will answer tough questions that sushi lovers need to know about

Sushi and Slavery

In the last year, The Guardian shocked the world of seafood by releasing their investigative journalism regarding slavery in the seafood industry. Migrants had been trafficked and sold as slaves in the cut throat race towards cheap seafood for international consumption. We look forward to hearing the panel in September which will go into further detail into slavery and seafood. Sushi lovers already worry about the sustainability of their seafood. Over the past year, sushi lovers have had to worry that the sushi they are eating was fished using slave labor.

The panel will discuss what has been done in light of these shocking discoveries, covering the scope of forced labor in the seafood supply chain, the impact of monitoring and policing, and the way that restaurants, merchants, and large markets are responding to the information that they may be involuntarily complicit to slavery and poor working conditions.

Consumers want to buy ethically, but there is also a pressing demand for cheap seafood that has caused a race to the bottom in terms of prices – and what unscrupulous people are willing to do to maximize their profits. The panel will also cover whether traceability schemes can be trusted to actually ensure ethical treatment of the people involved in the seafood industry from the moment it is caught to the moment the food is served on your plate. Consumers want to buy ethical seafood. They need to be able to trust the bodies certifying their food.

The reality of the seafood industry is that it is inescapably international. Unless you want to purchase only local seafood, it is very likely that you are buying food from across the world. This includes Thailand, where The Guardian uncovered the instances of slavery last year. Can consumers trust the governments of all of the nations involved to be robust enough to be able to guarantee the traceability of their seafood? These questions will be discussed at the conference in detail in the panel, comprised of Annie Kelly, Guardian Journalist, Steve Trent, founder of the Environmental Justice Foundation, Libby Woodhatch, head advocacy of Seafish, and more experts in the field to be announced shortly. Accountability is key, and international certification agreements are only as strong as their weakest party.

The situation is a complex one. The UK government considers large companies to be required to ensure they are purchasing their seafood “slavery free”, and to annually discloses measures they have taken to confirm this. At the same time, companies are demanding that there be certification standard that proves that vessels are not engaging in practices of slavery, among other human rights violations. It feels as if each party involved is leaning on another to fix the issue. The panel will show what each party has concretely achieved to address the problem.

To further complicate the situation, it is possible that even a concentrated effort to trace seafood from the source to the plate to assure there is no slavery could only scratch the surface of the problem. For example, let us look at Thailand, where The Guardian uncovered instances of slavery. Seafish, one of the organizations presenting in the panel, stated in their blog on October 17, 2014 that “the nature of the problem in Thailand relates chiefly to the vessels catching the small fish used for fishmeal production (used as feed for warm water prawns), rather than the vessels landing seafood for direct human consumption”. Can consumers be certain that even if their seafood is certified, that the companies will not be using or complicit in inhumane methods in other parts of the supply chain?

The problem is convoluted and murky, and we hope that the panel will shed some light on the nuances of the international seafood supply chain. In the meantime, I’m more inclined to buy local – but I, unlike others, am lucky enough to be living right next to the Pacific Ocean. Seafood is healthy and nutritious, and health conscious consumers will purchase it over red meat and other products, as long as the price is right. Will we be able to buy seafood ethically and at an affordable price? Let’s hope the panel pulls no punches. As consumers, we have a right to make informed choices.

The “Chipotle of Sushi”: A new chain in land-locked Ohio is changing the way we look at sushi

Fusian fast food style sushi

The concept is so simple it should have been obvious, but Fusion, a new sushi chain in one of the states you would least expect to see it happen is changing the way people look at sushi. The way it works is just like Chipotle. You choose between seaweed, white rice or brown sushi rice and add a protein, which can be traditional sushi ingredients such as tuna or salmon, or more regionalized choices like steak or chicken. Then you add in some veggies, and top it off with a sauce of your own choice. You can get it customized how you like it and they make it right before your eyes.

This is not sushi as an art form, and it is a very different experience to sitting in front of a sushi chef who has trained his or her entire life. This is a modern approach to sushi, complete with online ordering and a complete description of exactly how many calories, fat, sodium, carbs, fiber and protein you are getting in your roll. This allows health conscious consumers to choose low calorie sushi options. It is efficient, quick, and ideal for people on the go. Fusian is what happens when social media, time crunched millennials and a nation wide craze for sushi combine together to create something delicious and novel. The ingredients are made to fit local tastes, which explains the availability of sauces like sweet chili and sriracha and the fact that you can get cream cheese in your roll (which is ironically labelled as a vegetable on their website!).

Here is a screenshot of their menu (notice the last item on the vegetable list!). I had to get a picture before they changed it. Reminds me of when senators were trying to call pizza a vegetable.

sushi fusian cream cheese

Maybe you are skeptical. How can sushi be any good when you’re in Ohio? Won’t the fish be less fresh, and the ingredients of poor quality, especially when it’s served at fast food prices?

Fusian’s popularity would answer that question. With nine stores in Ohio, the build your own sushi chain is thriving. Half of the battle for Fusian is education people and getting them to try new things, and the founder has made it his mission to explain the way that restaurants purchase seafood. The secret is in the way that the entire sushi distribution chain works. Massive seafood suppliers dominate the market so unilaterally that Fusian in Ohio is buying their ingredients from the exact same distributors as restaurants in New York, and almost all of the restaurants in the United States for that matter, explains founder Zach Weprin. He claims that because his chain saves cost on staff and training compared to traditional sushi restaurants, he is able to provide top tier ingredients at more economical prices.

One small niggling detail that does not quite seem to hold up in the comparison between a New York sushi restaurant and Fusian is that sushi is incredibly popular in New York compared to Ohio. This means that large quantities of seafood are imported daily, leading to a very efficient infrastructure, and consumers are eating it up at a staggering rate. How is it possible that a restaurant in Ohio can have the same freshness as a top tier sushi restaurant in New York? This worry is countered by the strict laws and standards that are required for serving raw fish (and ingredients such as steak and chicken). There are stringent requirements which Fusian had to meet before being allowed to operate. The fact that there are already nine Fusian restaurants speaks to the chain’s ability to grow and negotiate with suppliers and distributors from a place of strength, and should set minds at ease that the seafood is not fresh.

How does Fusion do on sustainability?

Fusian uses plant-based food packaging, drinkware, and flatware. They have recycling stations in store and are committed to sourcing from responsible and credible suppliers. The last part is a little unclear. Fusian does not say how their suppliers are considered responsible, for example if they have achieved sustainability certification such as MSC. We wish Fusian would be a little more in depth on their website in regards to sustainability. It’s so important for consumers to be able to make educated choices.

A photo posted by FUSIAN (@eatfusian) on

Fusian looks like the perfect lunch to get in the middle of a busy workday. Simple, customized, and quick, with fresh ingredients and a modern look. I wish it would spread to where I live!

WWF Living Planet Report offers dire news for sushi lovers

bluefin tunaThe World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF) publishes the Living Planet Report every two years. A special edition was published in 2015 delves into the deeper implications of the 2014 report on our world’s oceans, and with it comes alarming news for sushi lovers worldwide.

While in the last 40 years the human population has risen 75% from 4 billion to 7 billion, the world’s mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian and fish populations have fallen by half. Some species have fared worse than the average decline. The report shows an index of 17 species of mackerel and tuna plummeting 74% between 1970 and 2010.

Fishery collapses can be drastic and sudden. Canadians will remember the collapse of the cod fisheries of the Atlantic, where a combination of greed and lack of foresight caused a catastrophic drop in the largest cod fishery of the world, reducing the biomass of the species to 1% of its former levels in the early 1990s. Even now over a decade later, stocks have not recovered. The world depends on fish as a source of food and a source of income, but this dependence has put a toll on species that are struggling to stay alive as demand grows.

There is a huge focus worldwide on populations of bluefin and yellowfin tuna, along with other premium sushi fish, but there needs to be an awareness of the base of the food chain. Feed conversion ratios for large fish such as tuna are generally between 15-20:1, meaning that for every kilogram of tuna in the grocery store, there was a required 15 to 20 kilograms of smaller fish – including mackerel. This is one of the reasons that it is difficult to farm tuna. The species, as an apex predator, require a huge amount of food to sustain their speed and size. If mackerel populations lose more of their biomass, the impact on apex predators and the entire ocean food chain will be felt.

The World Wide Fund for Nature is obviously a pro-conservation and pro-nature group. While the decline of 74% in tuna and mackerel populations may seem drastic, it is important to note that the majority of the decline occurred in the 1970s and 1980s. While there has been slight decline since, populations have not been continuing the steep plummeting of past decades. Unfortunately, there have been no signs of overall recovery, but ocean conservation groups such as the Marine Conservation Society and Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch still list most species of mackerel as “fish to eat” and “best choices”. Mackerel is however missing from the Marine Stewardship Council’s list of fish to eat. When mackerel can experience such a drop and still be considered a good choice to eat compared to other options, I personally start to get worried at how bleak the big picture is.

As stocks of fish drop, competition for dwindling supplies intensify. China, the nation with the largest fishing fleet in the world, has been increasing their fishing fleet, especially for tuna. Radio Australia reported in 2003 that Chinese fleets were receiving 4.1 Billion dollars in subsidies for fishing tuna, with a 5 year plan to increase the fleet of 1300 by 300 as of 2015.

Nations continue to fish against illegal fishing in their waters. Indonesia blew up 41 foreign fishing boats in May of 2015, including risking an international incident by exploding a Chinese fishing boat seized in 2009. There have also been allegations of under-reporting of international catch by China. The Fish and Fisheries report in 2014 estimates that the true catch was an estimated 4.6 million tonnes per year, whereas China declared only 386,000 tonnes. This was facilitated by increased catch in African waters, where it is more difficult to monitor and regulate fisheries. For further information, this article can be found at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/faf.12032/epdf (PDF document).

The barriers to sustainable fishing are huge. Fisheries form the livelihood of over 10% of the world, and restricting fishing can lead to thousands of people forced into unemployment without marketable skills outside of their industry. Increased regulation leads to increases in prices, and as prices rise the reward for illegal and unreported fishing increase as well. The reality of the global oceans means that multiple countries compete for the same resources, and if any one country voluntarily reduces their fishing, their economies suffer while other countries profit. While international agreements are in place to support sustainable fishing, they have been unable to bring back the populations of fish to the levels seen before industrialized fishing and trawling. Even more depressing, it is not only overfishing that is the cause of the decline. Ocean acidification, rising sea temperatures and population are all putting our oceans at risk. If populations are going to return to healthy levels, a concrete, global effort to protect our ocean’s will be required.

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Invasive Species Profile: Tiger Prawn (or what’s happening to ama ebi?)

ama ebi

Only ten percent of the global shrimp market is sourced from the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, but they remain important areas for the global ebi and ama-ebi market. The Gulf of Mexico region is important for consumers who wish to have seafood sourced in a manner with stricter consumer regulations than the other 90% of the shrimp market, which originates mostly from Southeast Asia and South America. The Gulf of Mexico is home to four native species of shrimp, including brown shrimp, white shrimp, pink shrimp, and rock shrimp. The native species are currently being threatened by Giant Tiger Prawns (Penaeus Monodon), which are the largest, most virile species of shrimp in the world. These tiger-striped monstrous shrimp can be over a foot long, and can spawn up to a million eggs at a time.

How did these shrimp travel the vast distances between their native habitat and the Gulf of Mexico? There are many theories, some more far flung than others. One possibility is ballast water. Cruise ships, tankers, and cargo carriers use enormous amounts of ballast water in order to give stability to the ship when crossing vast oceans. Ballast water discharge can contain viruses, bacteria, non-native plants, and, in the case of Gulf of Mexico, most likely some unwanted hitchhikers in the form of the foot long tiger prawns.

Ever heard of frogs raining down from the sky? While it might seem crazy, it is possible that hurricanes transported tiger prawns from South America, where the shrimp are farmed, to the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricanes Earl and Irene took paths in 2010 and 2011 respectively which could have potentially carried the shrimp into the Gulf, or, more probably, simply damaged and destroyed shrimp farms allowing the species to escape into the wild in vast numbers. While this is one of the most unlikely theories as to how Giant Tiger Prawns found their new home in the Gulf of Mexico, it does raise a very valid concern as to the impact of fish farming. Even with non-invasive species, it is possible for diseases to spread in a fish farm and then be released into the wild through accidents or natural disasters. Generally, samples of Tiger Prawns found in the Gulf of Mexico tend to have similar genes, meaning that they could potentially come from the aquaculture industry (fish farms) as there is a much higher incidence of inbreeding in these conditions.

Though the invasive species made an appearance in the Gulf of Mexico in 2006 after an 18 year absence, there is still not a clear consensus of the impact of the invasive species on the ecology of the Gulf of Mexico. As well, their appearance remains a mystery. Where this species came from and what effect they will remains a burning question for the fisheries, as Tiger Prawns are large, virile, and predatory. Even worse, Tiger Prawns are a resistant species, surviving salinity changes better than native shrimps and offering not only competition for resources but the potential to spread diseases to the native populations.

The native species of the Gulf of Mexico span more than just the shrimp market. The crab and oyster market are also multi-million dollar industries which are at risk of invasive species such as the Giant Tiger Prawn – and also another unwanted visitor, the lionfish. The theories as to how Tiger Prawns got into the Gulf of Mexico are just as wild as one strategy to reduce their numbers – eating them! Tiger Prawns are delicious with melted butter, and one proposed solution to the invasion is simply to do what humans do best- overfish, overeat, and consume consume consume until Giant Tiger Prawn populations go the way of the bison.

Sources:
Fuller, Pam, David Knott, Peter Kingsley-Smith, James Morris, Christine Buckel, Margaret Hunter, and Leslie Hartman. “Invasion of Asian Tiger Shrimp, Penaeus Monodon Fabricius, 1798, in the Western North Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.” Aquatic Invasions 9.1 (2014): 59-70. Web.

Jackson, Scott. “Invasive Species of the Day: Tiger Prawn and Climbing Ferns.” University of Florida Newsletters. N.p., 26 Feb. 2015. Web. 18 Mar. 2015.

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The Tsukiji Fish Market is Moving

tsukiji-fish-market-stallThe Tsukiji fish market is the largest and most extravagant in the world. Located in Tokyo, Japan, this bustling market supplies the world with the highest quality product via overnight flights. At a cost of more than $4 billion dollars, the massive market is going to be moved within two years to a controversial new location which was once used to house a gas plant. The new site will be less than two miles away from the current location, easily accessible, and feature a modern, sanitary facility.

The motive for the move? To free up the valuable real estate for more profitable ventures than the estimated $20 million dollars worth of seafood that is bought and sold daily at the historic market. The frantic bustle and chaos of the fish market is set to be tamed with a modern facility twice the size, more sanitary, and temperature controlled, set up for the modern world. It is planned to be efficient, streamlined, and prepared for the global market, with plenty of access to shipping containers and trucks. The more cynical of readers will already know what will be built in its place – resorts, casinos, and tourist traps in anticipation of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The Tsukiji fish market is celebrating its 80th anniversary, but its most iconic event, the bluefin tuna auction, could soon be in danger if population levels of the species keep declining.While almost any kind of seafood imaginable can be found at Tsukiji, it is tuna that has become the market’s biggest claim to fame. The pre-dawn tuna auctions became such a spectacle that tourists were banned from visiting the tuna auction, which was later changed to a ban during peak hours. Bluefin tuna has been the greatest attraction of Tsukiji market and is now its greatest infamy. From a conservation point of view, Japan is the greatest threat to bluefin tuna in the world, with the nation’s 127 million population (which corresponds to 1.8% of the world) consuming 80% of the species. Seafood Watch has placed all species of bluefin tuna in their avoid category. The species is one of 23 on the Greenpeace red list of most harmful catches.

It has been considered a mark of status and prestige for restaurants to purchase the first, most expensive bluefin tuna at the market. The first tuna of 2011 sold for $396,000. 2012 saw the price rise to a whopping $736,000, and 2013 was a mind-blowing $1,763,000 for a single fish. The restaurants purchasing these historic, record breaking tuna are losing incredible sums of money, selling the fish as sushi at a huge loss. It is all about status and prestige, and Kiyoshi Kimura, president of Kiyomura Co, has won the bid since 2012.

In 2014, the price of the first bluefin plummeted to $70,000 USD. This year, Kiyoshi Kimura paid only $37,500. If buying the first fish from the market is a mark of success and pride, then the plummeting price could be an indication that more and more restaurants are realizing that they do not want to be known internationally as the purchasers of an at-risk species.

The future of the Tsukiji fish market is one riddled with uncertainty, much like the future of bluefin tuna as a species. The move to a new site which still has deposits of toxic materials is less than ideal for a fish market, and only time will tell if the historic charm and bustle of the fish market will be lost forever.

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Sushi lovers may rejoice as juvenile bluefin tuna harvest is halved

Bluefin TunaBluefin tuna is highly prized, fetching prices in the tens of thousands of dollars for a single fish in famed yearly Japanese auctions. One such bluefin tuna sold for an incredible 1.76 million in 2013, a price which reflects the status and prestige of these animals. The fact is, all three species of bluefin tuna are overfished. Their populations have been decimated to compete with the huge demand that arose with the popularity of sushi worldwide.

How did it happen? Not so long ago, bluefin tuna was considered to be of such poor quality it was literally ground up and sold in cat food. Bluefin tuna has a long history of being considered unfit for human consumption, with the tuna being considered unclean throughout the ancient history of sushi in Japan. Tuna populations remained healthy and vital.

Everything changed in the 1970s, when sushi started to hit the global market and rose to prominence. Suddenly, nobody could get enough of the fatty fish which had just years ago been considered garbage. And while bluefin tuna grew in popularity worldwide, it is the sushi capital of the world, Japan, that consumes the bulk of the fish. Tuna stocks have plummeted, with pacific bluefin tuna seeing a more than 90% percent population decline from historic levels. It is by no means hyperbolic to consider this a devastating blow to the future sustainability of this fish, unless drastic conservation measures are taken.

A recent decision by the Northern Committee of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) is a step in the right direction. The meeting, which was held in Fukuoka, Japan, was a week-long process in which the issue of tuna was the main talking point. The plan is to cut the catch of juvenile tuna, or those that weigh less than 30 kilograms and have not yet reached reproductive age, in half. This is essential to the long term survival of the fish as it is the first step in reestablishing a healthy breeding population of the species. But cutting the catch of bluefin tuna is not as easy as it seems when the species it at risk of by-catch, an issue that is currently being address in other venues.

International bodies are not the only ones trying to stop the decline of bluefin tuna. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration published a 750 page amendment to its managements plan in a effort to help the in danger fish. Bluefin tuna breed in the Gulf of Mexico, and are often killed as a by-catch when large trawling vessels use long-line fishing techniques. In layman terms, long-lines are exactly what they sound like: 30 miles of hook loaded lines that have the precision of fishing with dynamite when you consider the impact to species such as bluefin tuna and swordfish. The amendment, published in August 2014, includes such measures as requiring vessels to have cameras which track the impact of by-catch, improved monitoring systems, and the go ahead for industry funded observer programs and new gear restricted areas.

Bluefin tuna populations are under stress, but decisions at the international and national level are setting the groundworks for a recovery of the fish. The response to the record low levels of bluefin tuna is late but steps are being taken in the right direction for the recovery of the species as a whole.

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