Sushi Lovers Might Not Have to Give up Endangered Bluefin Tuna

Bluefin Tuna, endangered species, captive breeding, conservation, Israel, sushiIt’s hard to convince a sushi lover that the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna doesn’t exist for them alone. I know this because I used to eat the robust pink flesh with abandon in my pre-vegetarian days. And if the wasabi didn’t make my eyes tear up, there wasn’t enough of it mixed in with my heart-exploding sodium-drenched soy sauce.

Knowing what I do now about this endangered species’ near-certain extinction and its enormous importance as an apex predator, I can’t eat it anymore, though I do occasionally pine for the good old days of sushi buffets. Now it seems like there’s hope for the species after all – and it lies in Israel.

A time to spawn

The Atlantic Bluefin Tuna plies the Mediterranean Sea, stopping in Israel when the water is the right temperature for spawning eggs.

It is also ferociously overfished by Maltese fishermen and others, and The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) charged with protecting them against extinction is virtually powerless.

Prized among the Japanese in particular, the flesh of this powerful sea-going creature fetches a handsome sum – some say as much as $1,000 per kilogram – which is what makes it so vulnerable.

Scores of stories have been written about a kind of tuna-mafia that hunts them, freezes them, hordes them – all in an effort to supply our insatiable demand.

Cages are for no one

Unlike Tilapia and other smaller fish, however, the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna doesn’t take well to controlled breeding programs and a series of efforts have failed miserably. It has a complex lifecycle and they are swimmers. Being stuck in cages is for the … nobody, actually.

All venting aside, Israeli researchers are the first to successfully breed the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna in captivity, according to local press.

Director of Israel’s National Center for Mariculture (NCM), Dr. Hanna Rosenfeld set out with scientists from a host of other Mediterranean countries to save the endangered species. They had a break through moment when Hillel Gordin from the National Center for Mariculture in Eilat suggested captive breeding.

To date the team has managed to encourage spawning in cages, and even to coax baby fish to grow into the same size they’d reach in the open sea, but they have not been successful at returning the fish to their natural habitat to breed.

“Once we achieve this goal,” Dr. Rosenfeld told Haariv, “we will not be dependent any more on wild fish and we will be able to set in motion the recovery of the global population of this endangered species that is at risk of extinction.”

Will I go back to eating sushi if the species is successfully reintroduced? I don’t know. There’s still plastic pollution in the ocean to worry about.

Image credit: Couple eat sushi in Japanese restaurant, Shutterstock

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3 thoughts on “Sushi Lovers Might Not Have to Give up Endangered Bluefin Tuna”

  1. I used to eat sardines to get Omega-3s, but lately just about anything that comes from rivers and oceans looks unappetizing to me – knowing what I do about the state of our waterways. Needless to say I have a fairly boring diet these days.

    I’m going to my sister’s farm for Thanksgiving… at least there everything comes from healthy soil and was grown without pesticides. It will be the first time in months that I’ll know for certain that what I’m putting in my mouth is pure! Ugh.

  2. Correction: I’ve never stopped eating. I only stopped eating sushi, including fish without mercury. Fish are generally as healthy–or unhealthy–as the oceans they live in.

  3. Sushi has been a favorite food of mine since the 1980s, but I stopped eating after watching “The Cove”, listening to Ric O’Barry describe his experience with Japanese doctors who wouldn’t eat tuna, because of mercury levels.

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