October is National Seafood Month, which is great because I love sashimi. Love it. A big slab of toro, salmon, yellowtail, shrimp, you name it.
But I don’t eat it anymore. At least not those fish.
Here’s why: you know that saying, “Don’t like traffic? You are traffic”? The same is true for overfishing. We are overfishing. We cause it, with our buying habits.
Here’s an example: in 2010, the Atlantic bluefin tuna catch limit was set by international regulators at 30 million pounds. Actual trade was 72 million pounds, according to a Pew study, and almost no enforcement action was taken. To grasp how far out of whack this is, imagine if everyone drove 144 mph on the freeway, thousands of people were dying in accidents, and the police just looked on. That’s what is happening in the ocean with bluefin tuna.
But forget the authorities or enforcement, we consumers are best positioned to stop overfishing – with our wallets. What we buy determines what species get fished, and how hard.
That’s why One World One Ocean is launching the GO Fish! campaign -- to highlight the good choices we can make, and why we should.
Throughout the month we'll be putting out videos, infographics, blog posts, recipes and other resources to provide info and inspiration to make the switch to sustainable seafood. Check out Toro the Bluefin Tuna, the first in a series of animated seafood species that tell it to you straight.
Reversing overfishing is important because seafood is the main protein source for a billion people worldwide, and many of the species they depend on, including bluefin tuna, are on the endangered species list – they may literally be gone soon. Not to mention 60% of all people live near the coast, and many depend on healthy fish stocks for a livelihood, recreation and all kinds of other things.
The main point of GO Fish! is that there are tons of great options for seafood. We don't have to stop eating it. In fact, sustainable fisheries often produce far more fish, meaning if we do it right, we will have plenty of seafood for a long time to come.
But we must choose to. Right now we are choosing to consume Atlantic salmon, Chilean seabass, black tiger shrimp, red snapper, and bluefin tuna into the ground, as the owner of a Tokyo sushi restaurant demonstrated at the beginning of the year. He set a new record price for a single bluefin tuna, buying a 593-pounder for $736,000 at the Tsukiji fish market. This is up 415% from the high price of just two years ago. At prices like that, fishermen are not only going to keep fishing for bluefin tuna, they’re going to fish harder for it.
By no means is this problem isolated to Japan; in the US, fishermen flocked to rivers in Maine this spring because eel has gone from $891 per pound to $2000 per pound, even as the species is being reviewed for inclusion on the endangered species list. And the EU fishing fleet has overfished fully 73% of its stocks.
The fact that we are driving the rush to overfish seemed to be lost on Hirotaka Higurashi, one of the first to taste the record bluefin in Tokyo, who, when asked about overfishing, said, “There is nothing we can do about it.”
Here, actually, is what we can all do about it. If you’re a restaurateur, you can make your operations sustainable. Kristofer Lofgren’s Bamboo Sushi, which delivers top quality seafood, all with sustainable ratings, is part of a growing list of restaurants proving that approach pays off. For the rest of us, we can buy from businesses like this. More and more restaurants and grocers are getting tuned into sustainable seafood, just like they did with organic food before, because they follow customer demand.
As further proof of the power of demand, Japanese fishing company Sanriku Toretate Ichiba recently equipped its boats with laptops and web cams so buyers at fish markets could see what was coming in real time. This worked both ways as the boats knew what orders they had to fill, and could actually reduce fishing effort while still on the water, in reaction to ebbing demand.
Imagine if fishermen everywhere knew, as they were setting their nets, how much demand there was for their catch. Of course the other necessary variable in this equation is that demand for overfished species actually goes down.
And that, Mr. Higurashi is where you and I come in.
Let’s go get a bite at Bamboo Sushi, on me.