The fishing season opens today in the Mediterranean spawning grounds of the “king of sushi” — the bluefin tuna — with a grim warning that current catch rates mean it will die out in as little as three years.
In my recent exchange with the food writer Mark Bittman on seafood, a debate broke out about fishery scale. Which are better stewards of fish stocks: small-scale fishermen who range around coastal waters, catching fish for nearby markets; or fleets of large, high-tech boats zipping about the seas, catching mass quantiies for far-flung markets? The demise of bluefin is a story follows the latter scenario. Here is the Times again:
Its demise is blamed on the introduction of fishing vessels in the 1990s that can round up 3,000 bluefin in one go. Most of the fish are frozen for air-freighting to Japan. The price depends on the fattiness of the meat with a record set last year in Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market of $55,700 (£37,400) for a 276kg (608lb) fish.
Thus the fate of bluefin in the Mediterranean hangs on demand in Tokyo, which is served by boats that can “round up 3,000 bluefin in one go.” Ain’t “efficiency” grand? According to The Times, the European Union has slashed quotas for the bluefin catch and shortened the season. But the new rules won’t go into effect until 2011–by which time it might be to late to stop population collapse. It’s hard to argue with the WWF official who says this:
Mediterranean bluefin tuna is collapsing as we speak and yet the fishery will kick off again tomorrow for business as usual. It is absurd and inexcusable to open a fishing season when stocks of the target species are collapsing.