Photo by Kenji Aoki for The New York Times
In the cover story from last week’s New York Times Magazine, Paul Greenberg writes about the end of Bluefin Tuna (Tuna’s End, 6/21/10). It’s not a new story, this one about the pace of our consumption overtaking the reproductive capacities of some organism with the unfortunate genetic gift of tasting good. (For other examples of general disregard of future ecological balance, see also: Cod, The Lorax, The Song of the Dodo, Collapse, etc.) The selective pressures have changed. The very features that helped this fish to survive over thousands of years (blood and muscle chemistry, size, shape, metabolism), are some of the same traits that contribute to what we find desirable (texture, protein and fat content, taste), and have subsequently led to its demise.
It used to be that the vastness of the Earth’s oceans provided sanctuary for large fish and cetaceans. As the technologies of travel and communication have flattened the world, so have the advances of the world’s commercial fishing fleets shrunk the oceans. There’s no place left to hide. As Greenberg points out clearly and persuasively, those advances, along with the lack of regulations on the high seas — “[the fish] remain under the foggy international jurisdiction of poorly enforced tuna treaties” — have combined to wipe out the Bluefin Tuna. It’s not over yet, but a healthy school of bluefin are no match for a fleet of purse seiners (or oil spills in their spawning grounds, for that matter), and the end is definitely in sight.
The bottom line is this: the status quo will result in extinction.
So is there any hope? Greenberg points to a few options. First, a worldwide moratorium on the Bluefin Tuna fishery could help the populations to recover. This is unlikely, however, because of the demand for sushi and the lobbying clout that those millions of dollars carry along with them. It’s also possible that a moratorium would be ignored anyway. The second option is to replace the demand for Bluefin sushi with a farmed fish comparable in taste, texture, fat content, etc. This might alleviate some pressure on wild populations — although feed conversion ratios for raising carnivorous fish are never great, some are better than others. Greenberg mentions an aquaculture operation in Hawaii called Kona Blue Water Farms that is raising kahala (dubbed Kona Kampachi), and the closed-life-cycle system of raising Pacific bluefin, or Kindai Tuna in Japan. Both are probably worth pursuing.
And then, there’s always someone at the TED conference with some ideas. I leave you with Dan Barber’s talk from TED 2010: How I Fell In Love With a Fish. Maybe there is some hope after all.
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