Eight pacific nations have just banned the fishing of Bigeye and Yellowfin tuna from their territorial waters, in what is one of the largest statements to protect the two species from destruction. The tuna fishing ban is being undertaken by all Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), including the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu. These nations have now banned fishing in specific areas adjacent to their exclusive economic zones. With a $3 billion pacific fishing industry at stake, they have realized that a temporary ban, to allow stocks to recover, is the only way to save these fish. I can hear the price of tuna sashimi is going up already…
Contrary to what many people believe, not all tuna sashimi is Bluefin tuna. Japan is a major importer of Bigeye and Yellowfin tuna and in fact the wholesale price of Bigeye tuna is up 20% in the past three years, and the price of Yellowfin is up 30%, with no end in sight. This recent ban could easily cause prices to rise at an accelerated rate. Approximately 50% of the global tuna catch is from the Pacific Ocean and a majority of that is from the areas around the PNA. High fuel costs are also impacting the fishing industry, and it has gotten so bad it is now estimated that almost 30% of the long line fishing boats may suspend operations due to the prohibitive costs of remaining in operation. The only way to offset these rising costs is to raise the price of fish, which may end up being the saving grace for these fisheries. As prices increase, more sustainable types of fishing are better able to compete, which is a necessity if tuna stocks are to avoid collapse. Since modern fishing techniques were introduced in the 1950’s, the estimated global yellowfin tuna catch has increased from approximately 110,879 tonnes in 1950 to a peak of 1,436,602 tonnes in 2003. In 2006, that number had receded to 1,129,415 tonnes and has somewhat stabilized there for the time being. Without some serious conservation efforts, that number will continue to go down due to reduces numbers of fish in the ocean. And tuna are not the only fish in danger of over fishing. Ultimately, there is not simple solution to preserving these piscine communities, but with the push for sustainable fishing, acceptance that prices must go up, and the actions of people who avoid destructive fishing practices, we can ensure our supply of sushi and sashimi ingredients in the future.
I almost feel as though I’m turning Sushi Otaku into an activist channel for the protection of endangered pelagic species. While I do not intend that to be the case, I do feel that it is important to raise this issue as it is important for anyone interested in seafood (and sushi/sashimi in particular) to be aware of these facts. I would be unhappy if my sushi dinners became a prohibitively expensive treat. Or a non-existent one. We need a greater impetus to ensure the survival of our aquatic fare, and the best way to achieve this is to be aware of what you eat, where it came from, and act accordingly. And it never hurts to ask questions.
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.