The Quest for Sustainable Sushi


 Photo posted by Alexandre Chang on Flickr
If there’s something pregnant woman and sushi lovers have in common, it’s the knowledge that there’s no use fighting a sudden craving for california rolls. Although it’s unclear why so many people (myself included) should find raw fish and gooey rice irresistibly appealing, the fact is that in the past two decades sushi’s popularity has spread well beyond it’s native Japan to resaurants and supermarkets across the globe. According to the French documentary "Global Sushi : Demain nos enfants mangeront des méduses" (Global Sushi: Tommorow our Children will eat Jellyfish), 75% of existing fish species could become extinct by 2050 if they continue to be fished at current rates – and the worldwide sushi fad is one of the main culprits.
The most obvious and immediate victim of the global sushi mania is bluefin tuna, considered a prized delicacy in Japan. The Japanese love the tender deep-red meat of this tuna subspecies so much that they gobble up to 400,000 tons of it each year. According to Glenn Slant, the global marine program leader for World Wildlife Fund (WWF) conservation program TRAFFIC, "the population of southern bluefin tuna is at an all-time low, below 10 per cent of its original population size. At any time it could collapse."
So do these bleak figures mean I’ll have to go through sushi detox to clear my environmental conscience? Luckily for me, other afficionados faced the same dilemna before me and came up with ways to continue indulging their sushi cravings without depleting global fish stocks. French green consumer website "Mes courses pour la planète" recently published a small pocket guide to sustainable sushi, following in the footsteps of Greenpeace campaigner and blogger Casson Trenor.
But as in every addiction treatment, however, the solutions do require a certain degree of restraint and effort. They involve giving up the more common types of sushi, such as salmon and tuna, altogether, unless they are produced in organic fisheries or approved by the Marine Stewardship Council for sustainable fishing (MSC). A big part of the quest for sustainable sushi is therefore to raise the issue with your favorite japanese resaurant or delivery service : do they buy their products from sustainable fisheries? If not, why? If enough customers keep asking the same questions, it might lead restaurateurs to add organic to their menu, and advertise the fact.
Speaking of advertising, watch out for greenwashing ads : a recent campaign by leading French sushi brand Sushi Shop claimed that the brand sells only abacore tuna, which is "available in large quantities in the Indian and Pacific ocean and represents a responsible alternative to bluefin tuna". In fact, although albacore is less immediately threatened than bluefin, it is still over-fished by industrial fleets whose methods are harmful to the marine environment.
Other solutions listed in the sustainable sushi guide are mainly common sense : opt for non-endangered species like mackerel, hareng or cuttlefish, and if possible try to pick them according to their seasonal life cycle (detailed in the guide). Always prefer fresh sushi to frozen – their storage requires less energy and has a lower carbon footprint. And, if you find a restaurant that offers organic or MSC fish, stick to it and spread the word!
One last, delicious alternative is vegetarian sushi - and if I can convince my gourmet Korean colleague Euny to give me her secret recipe then maybe (that's maybe) I'll share it in a future post...
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Oh wow. Palatable sushi picture. Gotta grab ingredients from the grocery because II'll be making one now. -Forex Contest
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Lorena, great article! Let me also suggest the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch lists for those interested in Sustainable Fish choices:

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