Archive for March, 2010

Bluefin Sushi

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

What an extraordinary fish. Bluefin tuna have the potential to grow huge, the largest of all bony fish – the record for one caught is 1496 lbs, and 1000 lbs (450 kg) used to be common. Like all tuna, they thermoregulate, staying relatively warm in cold water, and that lets them chase down colder, slower fish. A magnificent predator.

Their story as human food is well known, for they are by far the most valuable of fish, provided they are frozen quickly and properly as soon as they are caught, decapitated and gutted, and sent to the famous fish markets of Japan. The Japanese pay dearly for their bluefin sashimi (raw slices, dipped in a delicate sauce) and for their bluefin sushi. Communities around the world depend on bluefin fishing, paid for by the Japanese market.

Bluefin sushi, ready to eat (

As the whole world also knows, stocks of bluefin tuna are in serious decline, and collapse looms ahead. In the Mediterranean, the average size of a captured bluefin in 2001 was 124 kg; now it is close to 60 kg. That’s not just small – that’s too small to have had a chance to reproduce. Reproductive failure is the usual cause of collapse.

The decline of bluefin stocks has been particularly fast during the past decade (

As a result, bluefin ranching has become widespread, for instance in the Mediterranean, where the small tuna are fed massive amounts of bait fish to grow and fatten them to then harvest, freeze, and send off to Japan. Sounds more sustainable? It isn’t. Each tuna eats many times its own weight in bait fish to grow large enough to become sushi.

Bluefin tuna are grown in 'ranches' along the coast of Spain befroe they are killed, frozen and flown to Japan (

This past week, bluefin tuna have gathered headlines once again. Despite efforts to ban the global bluefin hunt, the 175 nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (known as CITES) easily voted down the ban. Japan lobbied furiously, and all the countries that need the income provided by their tuna fishing added their support. The hunting and the ranching will continue, at least for another two and a half years when CITES meets next. That is coincidentally about as long the World Wildlife Fund considers it will take for the collapse to occur.

Japan is very defensive. They deny that bluefin collapse is imminent, and accuse the rest of us of attacking their culture. If they had lost the UN vote, they intended to ignore it anyway.

There is, however, a solution. The problem is not eating sushi or sashimi, it is eating endangered species such as bluefin. There are plenty of alternatives. No doubt raw bluefin tastes especially fine to the experienced palate, but surely a secure culture can persist on the backs of sustainable species instead.

And we can help. Though 80% of the bluefin catch goes to Japan, the rest mostly goes to Japanese restaurants elsewhere in the world. Perhaps you also love the taste of sushi and sashimi. If so, the best place to start is to follow the Monterrey Bay Sushi Guide. And where you notice bluefin on the menu, challenge it!

Clearly we can’t wait for the UN to mandate appropriate conservation measures. As always, it is up to us.

The Cove lives

Monday, March 8th, 2010

Isn’t it great that The Cove won the Oscar for best feature documentary?

Dolphins celebrate Oscar for the film The Cove

Will it now be shown in Japan? So far it seems that it has been shown only once in Japan, at an international film festival where it wasn’t advertized, and where journalists were prevented from interviewing those few who saw the film.

Despite the film, and the global criticism, the slaughter chronicled in ‘The Cove’ appears to have continued – an eyewitness reported the slaughter of a large pod of killer whales near the end of January. And of course the annual offshore harpooning of 18,000 dolphins has not been affected by any of the Taiji publicity.

The recent killing of the Sea World trainer by an Orca has also raised the other issue, that of dolphins performing for our amusement in 130 tourist aquaria around the world. Even in the best of captive conditions, even under the guise of ‘education’, performing dolphins are a sad sight. The mouth shape of bottle-nosed dolphins makes it look like they are smiling, and this has cost them dearly. At The Cove at Taiji, the hunt for dolphins to capture and send around the world to perform in aquaria has never paused.

Every country supresses actions and history that are considered embarassing or critical, so Japan is hardly unusual in trying to hide both the Taiji dolphin slaughter and the film from its own people. But now the film has a new life, and the Internet remains a powerful force. We’ll see what happens next. A growing spotlight can still have a significant influence.

Ric O'Barry holds up his banner at the Oscar Awrds ceremony (Associated Press)

And everyone noticed that at the Oscar ceremony, when Ric O’Barry raised an innocuous banner indicating where you could send a text message about the dolphin slaughter, the camera immediately cut away. Mustn’t have any controversy, don’t want to offend anyone.

We have plenty of work to do here in North America as well, it seems.

Melting Ice

Saturday, March 6th, 2010

A new iceberg has been calved from the Antarctic continental ice sheet. It’s a tongue of the Mertz Glacier, not too far from the West Antarctic Peninsula. Relative to the size of the continent, it’s small, but the continent is huge, and the iceberg is the size of Luxemburg, or half the size of Prince Edward Island, depending on where you are from. It will drift slowly with the current that circulates around the continent, and will slowly melt. It may or may not have a disrupting effect on the current.

The huge iceberg that has broken off of Mertz Glacier (NASA)

Parts of the Antarctic ice shelf have been declining for the past few decades, just as glaciers in the rest of the world have been receding. The ice of the Arctic Icecap has thinned and shrunk. These are well documented events. Deniers of climate change can deny what they wish, but the evidence won’t just melt away.

Because of the thinning and melting ice in the Arctic, coastal villages have had to begin to ‘adapt’. With the melting of the ocean ice, ice shelves along the western shore of Alaska and in the Mackenzie Delta have been lost. The coastal frozen sub-soils have been melting. Protection from storm surges has been reduced. Some villages are planning to build dikes. The village of Newtok, on the coast of Western Alaska, is moving to higher ground, 9 miles up the Ningluck river.

Coastal village of Newtok, Alaska: time to move.

And so it begins. Adaptation. Not prevention, not mitigation. Any imminent legislation limiting carbon emissions in the US appears increasingly unlikely. In Canada, the new federal budget pretty well eliminates research on climate change, and in any case the current Canadian government will take no action before the US does.

If adaptation becomes our only option, then we have consciously made ourselves into victims of our own actions. Seems a pity. Still, as Winston Churchill may have said, “Never give up!”