Sushi restaurants can be found on nearly every block on Ventura Boulevard or other parts of Los Angeles. While the popularity of sushi and other seafood meals is clearly sustainable, the impact on the survival of the fish the restaurants are serving is not.
Every wildlife or seafood conversation organization reports that the Bluefin tuna population is highly endangered and big eye tuna are vulnerable, but spicy tuna rolls are still one of the most popular sushi options in America. Overfishing is largely to blame for the sustainable seafood issue.
Overfishing has depleted many types of fish to the point of severe depletion. Overfishing is when more fish are caught than can be replaced by natural reproduction. As people worldwide eat more seafood and things like fish oil become popular fads, the seas and oceans do not have limitless supplies of accessible food. The reality is that the survival of many species ordered regularly are threatened, so spicy tuna rolls, Atlantic salmon, Chilean sea bass, eel and other common choices are exacerbating the issue.
As one chef noted in National Geographic, most Americans break their meat diets periodically with seafood. However, most limit their choices to shrimp, tuna, salmon and tilapia. This limited selection is fueling the overfishing. For example, Atlantic salmon have been highly endangered since 2000 and have dwindled to 1 percent of their earlier population.
According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), unsustainable fishing practices are driving more types of fish to the brink of extinction. More than 85 percent of the world’s fisheries drastically need plans for restoration, largely because of the open access to them, given the lack of property rights in the open waters. Another aspect exacerbating the issue is illegal and unreported fishing, which accounts for an estimated 20 percent of fish caught worldwide and 50 percent in some areas.
Sushi Popularity Impact on Sustainable Seafood
Is the sustainable seafood picture dire for seafood and sushi aficionados? No, there are noticeable improvements. There was recognition of the issue 15 years ago that led to legal changes, including Congressional action in 2006.
Since then, there have been pushes for greater governance globally to assure sustainability of some species, food supplies and the economy of areas that rely on fishing. The WWF was involved in the founding of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), set an ecofriendly standard to recognize sustainable fisheries. Those fisheries qualify for MSC certification on their products. According to WWF, around 15,000 seafood products now bear the MSC label.
Seafood Watch, a marine watchdog program established by the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, distributes consumer guides and recommends which seafood to buy or avoid. They identify which species are good choices, good alternatives or should be avoided. Seafood Watch even has an app for diners to readily check on the status of their fish choices. In fact, 21 fish that were once of concern have now been deemed sustainable. Those included many types of rockfish (aka snapper) and sole.
In addition, companies have emerged that provide traceability for chefs and consumers as to how the fish was caught, by whom, and other pertinent details to ensure legality. Salty Girl Seafood, one such firm, specializes in connecting buyers with fisherman who support responsible, sustainable catches.
Other solutions include building demand for undervalue species and responsibly produced farmed fish. In addition, the industry is looking for ways to incentivize responsible fishing practices. However, as long as tuna, eel and salmon (three sushi ingredients with wide popularity) are not sustainable seafood options, patrons need to be conscious they are endangering the future of the fish.
By Dyanne Weiss