Declining Tuna Stocks Could Limit Or End Some Types of Tuna Sushi

According to a recent World Wildlife Fund report, tuna stocks worldwide are at risk of depletion due to over-fishing. Could this mean no more maguro and toro for sushi fans? Currently, tuna fleet capacity is far greater than required to catch a sustainable level of the fish. This, coupled with disputes over allocation of fishing quotas, and plain old illegal fishing have led to over-fishing of one of our favorite sushi items. The Atlantic bluefin tuna is severely over fished and the spawning stock of the Southern bluefin is now down almost 90%.

In addition to poaching, there appears to be deliberate misreporting of catches and even “tuna laundering” which is hiding the actual number of tuna caught. Some tuna catches are apparently being processed at sea before being transferred to larger ships headed for Japan, effectively shielding the poachers from law enforcement officials and flouting quota management.

While the best way to save the species from total collapse would be a grassroots tuna protest or an embargo on maguro and toro, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realize that it won’t happen that way. Too many people care too much about eating their tuna to give it up and make a point. We do, however, need to let the world know that sustainable fishing must be enforced to save the tuna from going the way of the dodo. Unlike some fish, such as hamachi (yellowtail) no one has yet to find a way to farm tuna, leaving sustainable fishing our only option.

Fleets from the European Union (mainly France), Libya and Turkey appear to be the main offenders, according to the report. The 42 nation International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas — in which the European Union plays a major role — is responsible for regulating the fishing quotas. That said, the annual quota of 32,000 tons, set by ICCAT, was broken by over 40 percent in 2004 with a catch of 44,948 tons, and rose to 45,547 in 2005. The actual catches are likely to be well over 50,000 tons — a figure confirmed by the ICCAT scientific committee. Without adherence to international quotas, we may not have enough tuna left in a few years to have even a sustainable breeding population, let alone chutoro for our plate. Joe Borg, European Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs, is being urged to step up to the plate and close the fisheries that are putting the bluefin tuna at risk. We will just have to see how strongly he feels about maintaining the stability of the world’s bluefin tuna stocks at the next ICCAT meeting in November. Hopefully for the sushi fans of the world, we will see some action soon. If things work out, your o-toro may be a little more expensive than it has been, but at least it won’t be going away forever, and that’s something I can support.


Warren Ransom

I have always been fascinated by the creation and culture of different foods, particularly sushi and sashimi in the modern era of Japanese cuisine. I am a classically trained chef and sushi connoisseur, also having operated a food service company and enjoy investigating and experimenting with food around the world.

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