Bluefin tuna—rich, fat-marbled, delicious for sushi—is floundering. It’s overfished to meet high demand, especially from Japan, and so to replenish supplies, environmentalists are pushing to add it to the endangered-species list. A global summit just rejected a proposal to ban its international trade, but the stigma attached to the massive fish is already reducing its use.
Price per pound for wild bluefin
… for lab-grown Kindai variety
• Bluefin tuna, long a staple in Mediterranean Europe, became popular internationally with the advent of new fishing and freezing technologies in the sixties. But the techniques were too effective, and the fish couldn’t keep up.
• Beginning in 1996, bluefin “farms” began opening in the Mediterranean, mostly in Spain’s Murcia region. The ecological problem: The “farms” don’t breed new fish; they just trap the existing ones to be fattened—often while they’re juveniles that haven’t yet reproduced.
“Right now we have a catch quota which is still almost twice the level needed to recover the stock.”
—Sergi Tudela, a Barcelona-based bluefin expert who works with the world wildlife fund
Western Atlantic bluefin populations are supposed to be stabilized by International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) quotas.
U.S. and Canadian Annual Quota, in Tons: 1,800
European Quota: 13,500
Annual Illegal European Catch (est.):61,000
295,000 tons of bluefin in
world’s oceans in 1970
U.S. megawholesaler True World Foods has started breeding Kindai bluefin—a lab-born variety developed at a Japanese university. But it costs too much for most chefs. “We’re paying $11 to $14 a pound right now for yellowfin and ahi tuna,” notes BLT corporate executive chef Eric Battes. “Kindai can run between $30 and $45.”
THE NEW ECO-STIGMA
Whole Foods stores nationwide, and the Lobster Place and Wild Edibles stores in New York, stopped carrying the fish—even those fished in America and Canada—several years ago. The Sushisamba chain stopped carrying bluefin last week and plans to outfit kitchen staffers with “No Blue”–branded hats.
weight of the average bluefin tuna