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November 19, 2008 11:28 AM   Subscribe

Overfishing - a global disaster: A Seafood Snob Ponders the Future of Fish while time runs out for Japan's dangerous obsession with the bluefin.
Blue Ocean Institute’s seafood program helps consumers discover the connection between a healthy ocean, fishing, and seafood. Here is a Guide to Good Fish guides., and some political recommendations.
posted by adamvasco (14 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
From the Guardian article: The Japanese eat 600,000 tonnes of tuna a year - about a third of the total fished worldwide, and about three-quarters of the total bluefin fished worldwide. Holy Majole! I had heard they they were overfishing bluefin, but I had no idea that the numbers were that high.

On a similar tip, I'd recommend Nick Tosches' article on sushi and the blue-fin market from Vanity Fair last year. Other than knowing that I liked sushi, I didn't know much else about the process. I would love to see the Tsukiji market in person - although I'm sure I'd be horrified as much as I'd be fascinated.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 12:05 PM on November 19, 2008


Duh - of course that article was already discussed here!
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 12:07 PM on November 19, 2008


"Conservationists want a moratorium, but Japan..."

...says fuck that shit, we're going to eat bluefin off slabs of whale. Scientifically. Until we can prove that every last fucking thing in the sea is gone. And what we can't eat, we're going to toss over our shoulders like 127 million caricatures of Henry VIII.

Japan imports more food than any other country and then throws away more food than any other country.
posted by pracowity at 12:16 PM on November 19, 2008


I lived in Japan for a few years, and as much as I loved it and would like to return one day...that place's national motto should be "FUCK THE ENVIRONMENT."
posted by Stonewall Jackson at 12:58 PM on November 19, 2008


I have an...interesting relationship with seafood. I love it. But rarely eat it. I used sustainable fishing practices when I was only a kid -- but not for environmental reasons. I did it because we all did, and that goes back to why I love seafood and yet don't eat it today.

My grandparents lived on Cape Cod, and every single time we visited them, there was either a fishing or clamming expedition. We'd all load onto Grandpa's little motorboat -- me, my brother, my parents and grandparents, a couple aunts and uncles -- and head out, tooling around in Buzzard's Bay with just a couple lines trailing off the back of the boat trying to catch what we could catch. If it was too small, or we weren't going to eat it, we threw it back -- usually it'd just have been caught with a hook, so the worst the fish we threw back may have been left with was a scar on its lip and a little paranoia. Usually we ended up with about 6-8 fish at a time, bluefish mostly, and then we'd head back in. Or, we'd go to the one beach Grandpa knew was good for clams, and we'd spread up and down the beach digging for them, always having to check against the size gauge Grandpa had on his clam bucket to see if it was big enough. Sometimes at the end of these trips we'd check Grandpa's lobster traps as well, maybe getting a lobster or two as well.

The adults would spend the next hour after we got in either cleaning shellfish or cleaning and filleting the fish. Some of the fish went in the freezer. But usually, whatever we caught that day, we ate that night.

And that is why I love seafood, and that is why I don't eat it much these days -- because there is nothing on earth as good as seafood that is that fresh. My ex was surprised to hear that I favor bluefish -- it has a reputation for being an oily fish, but that's only the case if you don't eat it within a couple hours of catching it. If you eat it right away, all you need is to grill it with a little lemon and butter, and -- perfection. And steamer clams -- there is nothing as sweet as a steamer clam you've just dug yourself 12 hours before.

These days, all I can get is the farmed stuff or stuff that's been trucked in from far off -- and it just doesn't taste the same. So I don't eat much of it. And if we don't try and do more sustainable fishing, that's all we'll have -- no one will be able to have the kind of seafood I had when I was a kid, that was that fresh, and that makes me rather sad indeed. Because one of these days I'm going to get another pole and try to get a bluefish so I can taste it done right again, and I hope they'll still be there for me to catch.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:20 PM on November 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


For an excellent, insightful, highly readable narrative take on the seafood industry's mess, I can't recommend Taras Grescoe's Bottomfeeder more highly. Fundamentally changed my diet - I've eaten more sardines and less (farmed) shrimp in the last year than ever.
posted by gompa at 2:00 PM on November 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Japanese eat 600,000 tonnes of tuna a year - about a third of the total fished worldwide, and about three-quarters of the total bluefin fished worldwide.

I talked with my (Japanese) ex-colleague about bluefin consumption. He was aware of the problem, and noted that "many parts of the world now want sushi." He seemed completely unaware of the relative proportions of bluefin catch and use, and it wouldn't surprise me one bit if most Japanese are the same way. It's a problem that China, Korea, etc., are bringing on.

(that being said, I'll take Canadian salmon over Japanese, but nothing beats Japanese Otoro)

Japan imports more food than any other country and then throws away more food than any other country.

Well true, but they do their own drag-netting tyvm. Visit a Japanese supa and marvel at everything they've scraped off the ocean floor and laid on ice for your evening dinner. Not quite as extensively as China, but close.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 2:09 PM on November 19, 2008


Psst. Don't look now, but Maine lobster's like $2 a pound.

Seriously people. Buy some lobster. For Freedom.
posted by rusty at 2:31 PM on November 19, 2008


I don't eat fish personally, but the rest of my family does. I encourage my daughters to do so especially, as it is one of nature's most healthy foods. Don't get me wrong. We all eat meat. But don't fool yourself as to its impact on the world.

We only eat fish that I have caught personally (we fish off the coast of West Australia regularly, and limit our catch to Sand Whiting, avoiding other popular but under threat species), and more importantly, when I do buy fish, I choose only those endorsed by the Marine Stewardship Council. Look for its logo.

Eat healthily.
Fish appropriately.
Purchase with conscience.
Consume responsibly.


Me? I've got thirty years left at best. But I sure as hell don't want my daughters growing up in a world of shit.
posted by Mephisto at 4:52 PM on November 19, 2008


In addition to the excellent Bottomfeeder, there's also Charles Clover's The End of the Line: How Overfishing is Changing the World and What We Eat. Clover has co-authored a book with Prince Charles about organic gardening.

People in my circles are receptive to the idea of adjusting their fish consumption, but not so much to the idea of asking restaurant servers "Where did this fish come from? Is the tuna skipjack, or...? Is the salmon farmed or wild? Alaskan or not?" It's probably a matter of not wanting to be a pain in the ass for the server, and yet as Grescoe observes, the more of us who voice these kinds of concerns, the more restaurant owners will be forced to think about sourcing fish sustainably.

(Legal Sea Foods in Boston had cod on the menu at some point, which astonished me considering that sustainable harvesting was one of its key marketing points, and I said so to the server - "Legal considers cod sustainable?" Cod disappeared from the menu sometime after that, so I've always figured other patrons must have said something too.)
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 5:33 PM on November 19, 2008


because there is nothing on earth as good as seafood that is that fresh

I second that. Best tuna I ever had was on a diving trip in the maldives. On the trip to the reef where we were going to dive, the locals manning the dhoni had a deal with the divers - they would throw a couple of lines and keep whatever they caught, but one of their catches would be for the divers.

There's nothing as good as coming up from a dive and find some fresh tuna and a bit of soy sauce ready for you.
posted by DreamerFi at 10:27 PM on November 19, 2008


cybercoitus interruptus: There are at least two sustainable cod fisheries. Longline Pacific cod from Alaska and line-caught Icelandic cod.

Except for a few species (such as "Chilean sea bass" and "orange roughy" -- scorn quotes denote marketing names for toothfish and slimehead, respectively) you can't usually go solely by species in deciding what to buy. Where it's caught, how it's caught, and the management of the fishery is much more important.

This is obvious to everyone for land-based foods. No one says "don't buy carrots! They're not sustainable!" What matters is how they're grown. But for some reason it's taking longer to sink in for fish.
posted by rusty at 7:03 AM on November 20, 2008


People in my circles are receptive to the idea of adjusting their fish consumption, but not so much to the idea of asking restaurant servers "Where did this fish come from? Is the tuna skipjack, or...? Is the salmon farmed or wild? Alaskan or not?" It's probably a matter of not wanting to be a pain in the ass for the server, and yet as Grescoe observes, the more of us who voice these kinds of concerns, the more restaurant owners will be forced to think about sourcing fish sustainably.

Actually, that's what the Good Fish Guides in the link above are for -- there's actually a few different people offering these guides, the Monterey Aquarium has the most commonly-distributed ones. You ostentibly carry these in your wallet for when you're eating out or when you're grocery shopping, and it has three lists of "safe", "maybe", and "avoid" types of seafood. You check the list against the menu, and if what's on the menu is on the "avoid" list, you skip it and go for the chicken instead or whatever.

My ex had one of these and was really diligent about this -- most of the time the guide settled his questions, and I can only remember once that he sent the server to ask how the bass was caught or whatever.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:49 AM on November 20, 2008


There are at least two sustainable cod fisheries. Longline Pacific cod from Alaska and line-caught Icelandic cod.

You're right. This was several years ago when I had just started reading about seafood sustainability and was feeling demoralized by reading nitty-gritty details of the devastation of Atlantic cod fishery. Differentiation based on harvesting methods was harder for me to learn for seafood than land-based food because the terminology's less familiar, and then there's the added complication of species characteristics like maturation rate and fecundity.

three lists of "safe", "maybe", and "avoid" types of seafood. You check the list against the menu, and if what's on the menu is on the "avoid" list, you skip it and go for the chicken instead or whatever.

I have the Blue Ocean one, but a lot of the restaurants I and my circles patronize don't usually specify species (just "halibut," not "Atlantic / Pacific halibut") and certainly don't specify harvesting method ("Icelandic cod," but not "line-caught" or "bottom-trawled") on the menu, so asking the server questions is still necessary. And anyway there's still Grescoe's point that patrons who voice concerns will help put sustainable sourcing on the radar of more restaurant owners.

Oh hey, I didn't know that Blue Ocean added a sushi guide! I'll send the link to the sushi-eaters I know.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 11:14 AM on November 21, 2008


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