According to the recent French documentary Global Sushi: Demain nos enfants mangeront des meduses (Tomorrow Our Kids Will Eat Jellyfish), at the current rate of consumption, over the next 40 years 75% of the world’s fish species could become extinct. Our insatiable appetite for fish is to blame, including the ever-growing popularity of sushi, which has depleted Pacific stock of bluefin tuna (you’ll see it on the menu as maguro or toro) down to 10% of its original levels.
Until recent decades, for the Japanese sushi was a delicacy eaten only on special occasions (like egg nog). But with growing prosperity (and the advent of refrigeration after WWII) came greater demand. To make matters worse, over the past 30 years, sushi bars and restaurants have spread across the globe, creating a worldwide craze. Today, the Japanese consume over 60,000 tons of bluefin tuna annually. And that’s just Japan. With so many species of fish now on the endangered list, the average sushi platter now resembles a campaign ad for the World Wildlife Federation.
Is there a better, more sustainable way to enjoy sushi? Is there a way to make sure there’s more than one green thing on your nigiri platter besides the wasabi? Experts say yes. One Greenpeace activist has developed a very helpful website that tracks the different species on your plate and recommends what’s safe to eat in terms of sustainability, as well as mercury and PCB levels. (Being at the top of the food chain, tuna has notoriously high mercury toxicity.) The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) gives its blue label only to fish that meet its requirements for sustainable fishing (you may have seen it on canned fish).
One potential solution to the problem of over-fishing has been the growth of farm-raising. This has been most successful with shrimp both here in the States and in Asia, but makes little sense with large carnivorous fish like tuna or salmon (it requires 10 lbs of other fish species to make 1 lb.of tuna; 2-4 lbs for salmon), or eel (whose appetites tend to deplete local fish stocks).
A few recommendations when ordering from the sushi bar: try saba (mackerel) and shiromaguro (albacore) instead of maguro/toro (bluefin tuna). Eat suzuki (sea bass) and ebi (shrimp) instead of sake (salmon) or hamachi/hiramasa (yellowtail). Or how about the different varieties of vegetarian sushi? In addition, consider restricting your sushi consumption to once a month at most, or better yet, try ordering from another part of the menu (teriyaki, tempura, udon, etc.). You might also ask the restaurant manager whether he purchases from organic fisheries. Most do not, but if enough people begin asking….