Goodbye Charlie - What's behind the demise of tuna?


Are we seeing the last of tuna?

This New York Times article Tuna Town in Japan Sees Falloff, seems to answer in the affirmative. The industrial fishing trawlers including those using helicopters and spotting planes are stripping the oceans clean. "Japan...consumes some 80 percent of the 60,000 tons of top-grade tuna caught worldwide." The older fishermen using two-man open boats, hand-held lines and live bait like squid, were fishing in a much more sustainable method. 

The very last of the majestic tuna is being illegally fished with impunity to feed a growing insatiable appetite for sushi. Chef Instructor at the Culinary Institute of America, and a fellow sustainable seafood advocate tipped me off to this video. In this segment from 60 Minutes (it's just 12 minutes) you get a good sense of the perverse application of industrial harvesting methods that both reflects, and drives, the market. The giant purse-seining vessels (from almost every country it seems) have allowed for insane increases in the take. The feeding frenzy is both fed and stirred up by the increased global access to tuna. There is even a commodity market that was created by this huge increase in harvest.

Now we face a loss of a species. One can only wonder where are the regulators? How much longer could we all have enjoyed this delicacy if we'd continued with more sustainable fishing methods? Will the tuna recover or be lost forever as a species? Once this predator is gone from the top of the food chain - what will the impact be on the ecosystem within which they live?

When you see the purse seine nets, as deep as a 6 story building, and multiply those nets' take (thousands upon thousands) by the number of countries sending multiple ships -- it boggles the mind. If we could see the ocean's depletion the way we can see, say strip-mining or clear-cutting of forests, would we care more? 

As much as I love maguro, otoro, chutoro, the more I learn about the state of tuna fisheries, the less I have an appetite for it.

What are you doing about tuna? Would you eat other endangered species?

Culinary professionals concerned about making more sustainable choices please join our workshop, Teach a Chef to Fish. Read about it here.