Documentary on Endangered Bluefin Tuna Reels in Sushi Joints & Celebrities

By Aline Reynolds | June 9, 2009 4:19 pm

bluefin tunaFrom pandas to polar bears, animals have served as icons for wildlife conservation. Now a new documentary called The End of the Line has helped the bluefin tuna, an endangered species, swim into the limelight by highlighting the overfishing common in fisheries today. Based on a book by journalist Charles Clover, the film has spurred some retailers to remove bluefin from their menus and stores and even moved some celebrities to pose naked with the fish to advocate conserving them.

A growing demand for bluefin tuna, commonly found in sushi and now as endangered as the giant panda, has not only decreased the fish‘s population, but also increased the number of undersized fish that are harvested, preventing the fish from reaching maturity. “Bluefin tuna has become the poster boy for the overfishing campaign. It’s on the buffers – it’s really on the slide down now,” Clover says.  “There are no large tuna anymore. There were bluefins of 250lb in Japanese fish markets when I went there four years ago – there are none now. A third of the catch is undersize” [BBC News].

The solution, experts say, doesn’t necessarily have to entail eschewing tuna altogether. Instead, consumers should stick to skipjack tuna, a more common variety, that has been caught using a method called pole-and-line, which avoids accidentally netting bluefish tuna and other sea life. Most commercial fishing operations that target skipjack use nets, Clover says, but “the skipjack run with all these other tuna species, like bigeye and bluefin. The skipjack are close to the surface and the bluefins swim further down, so there is often bluefin bycatch” [BBC News].

The documentary also has netted a variety of celebrities who are speaking out, or stripping down, against overfishing. Charlize Theron, Sting, Alicia Silverstone and others have spoken out against Nobu, an upscale restaurant chain that has kept bluefin tuna on its menu. And British movie star Greta Scacchi is one of those working with acclaimed photographer Ian Rankin to take images of celebrities holding fish for a poster campaign. “We have to put a stop to this free-for-all plundering of the sea,” she said. [Mail Online].

The publicity has already had concrete effects on retailers and restaurants that sell tuna. Restaurant chain Pret a Manger, for example, has pledged to switch to skipjack tuna later this year, and British grocer Marks and Spencer will phase out any tuna caught using nets that can catch other sea creatures. The retailer will only use line-caught tuna, that has less by-catch, in its products including the 20,000 tuna sandwiches sold daily [Telegraph].

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Image: flickr / stewart

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World
  • http://clubneko.net Nick

    The ongoing rape of our home planet is a pretty sad thing to bear witness to, but at least we are aware and fighting against it now.

  • macadamia man

    Let them eat jellyfish . . .

  • Jumblepudding

    I am glad these majestic, uniquely evolved fish don’t have to die in such droves to fill some Japanese kid’s lunchbox. The skipjacks, given their name, probably taste terrible and thus were ignored by early fishermen, so hopefully demand for sushi will go down altogether.

  • Juneaux

    while maybe good tuna don’t go into a japanese kid’s lunch box, i have been to tsukiji market in tokyo many a times to see the fishmongers there bandsawing tuna in half all the time. the problem is the culture’s demand for luxury fish, and the best ootoro(the fattiest part of the tuna) and chuutoro(second fattiest) come from bluefin.

    the japanese have depleted these fish to such an extent that now their fishing fleet is scouring the mediterranean sea to catch the blue fins.

    me personally, i find tuna sushi and sashimi to be extremely bland, and smaller more abundant fish such as halibut and mackerel(the sea is crawling with them, and you can buy them for about a dollar per fish in most asian markets) have much more flavor as well as dramatically lower levels of mercury, since they are not top predator fish.

    spread the word. tuna is an image fish. they don’t taste that good, and they are bad for you. go for more flavorful fish and squid… i actively spread this message to my japanese friends as well.

  • Katharine

    “while maybe good tuna don’t go into a japanese kid’s lunch box, i have been to tsukiji market in tokyo many a times to see the fishmongers there bandsawing tuna in half all the time. the problem is the culture’s demand for luxury fish, and the best ootoro(the fattiest part of the tuna) and chuutoro(second fattiest) come from bluefin.

    the japanese have depleted these fish to such an extent that now their fishing fleet is scouring the mediterranean sea to catch the blue fins. ”

    I wonder if they’ve figured out that if they kill them all, there won’t be any more bluefin tuna to sell?

  • http://mytsupp.info Irvin

    I hope we can learn the value of moderation. We all know we have the right to eat these we also have to realize the limits of harvesting them so these will be available also for the next generations who has equally the rights with us. Let’s just be reasonable and responsible.

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