News of the latest negotiations on how many bluefin tuna the world can afford to kill without extinctionating the species (yes, it’s a word … to me) is yet to be inked, and that’s fine, because it’s always such a depressing story. Who us, kill too many of a disappearing fish? But it reminded me of the new book by Richard Ellis, Tuna: A Love Story, which is great in many respects in part because in it he declares that we need to save this species precisely because it’s a phenomenal animal. Warm blooded, acrobatic, long-lived, and wily, it’s a miracle of evolution.
Yet every year more of these creatures are netted while small, kept captive in oceanic pens (so called "ranches") in places like South Australia, and fattened until they’re just right for the sushi market. While this perhaps takes some pressure off still-wild tuna, the world’s appetite for bluefin is so great that I think it only adds more fuel to the fire. Which is one reason why the recent breakthrough by an Australian for-profit, Clean Seas, who has coerced captive bluefin to breed in the lab, therefore opening the door to an endless supply of new ranch recruits, is more disturbing to me than hopeful. The company’s creepy statement about it doesn’t help:
“We have proven what can be done, even with southern bluefin tuna, which is the holy grail (of aquaculture),” Mr Stehr said.
“In the future this will be a staggering industry of immense proportions. It depends on us, the state government, the federal Government, how big we want this to be.
“In years to come this will give us a sustainable bluefin industry, that no one in the world will be able to attack.”
Wow. Today, bluefin tuna, tomorrow, the world! And what does that last bit mean, exactly, that no one will be able to assault their fish farms?
The company’s name is magnificently ironic, and — this is the main reason I’m driving at — this is not a "holy grail" for at least the global commons. What are they going to feed these legions of domesticated tuna with, for years and years until they’re "ripe"? Mindblowing amounts of small- to medium-sized fish, all caught at sea for the express purpose of fattening bluefins, one of the world’s largest predators. Hence the irony: Clean Seas, cleansing the oceans of the very forage fish capable of sustaining any wild bluefins (and myriad other critters) that remain beyond pen, net, and rope.
Hoovering up the foodchain for fresh sushi makes very little sense except profit-motive-wise. But even folks like Richard Ellis miss this important point when he fails to look down the feed-line and instead hails this development in his book as something that has perhaps arrived "in time to rescue the Mediterranean bluefins from the rapacious overfishing by the Europeans."
Not in my book.