Allison Day

In the world of sushi, a big issue these days is sustainability. The way certain fish and other seafood are caught is harmful to the environment, and depleting the limited numbers of fish in the ocean.

One of the most widely-known endangered fish is bluefin tuna. More people who frequently eat sushi know that bluefin is endangered, and may be gone within a few years at the rate we consume them, than any other type of seafood.

Some people who feel strongly about this issue have decided to take action. To help broaden public awareness about the issues concerning bluefin tuna, they are bringing attention to the fact that popular, well-known sushi restaurant Nobu offers bluefin tuna on it’s menu. (Many top sushi restaurants no longer serve bluefin tune, opting for the more sustainable yellowfin tuna.)

In recent attempt, many celebrities signed a petition in an attempt to convince the Nobu restaurant in London to remove bluefin from it’s offerings, and have threatened to boycott. (See articles here, here, here, and here for more details regarding the petition and boycott.) Alton Brown (of Iron Chef fame) just announced live that he “won’t set foot in Nobu until it stops selling bluefin tuna.”

Just a week ago there was another such event at the Nobu in TriBeCa, New York, where Greenpeace organized a dine-in. Participants including Casson Trenor, the author of Sustainable Sushi, attempted to replace menus and business cards at Nobu with their own that pointed out Nobu’s practice of serving the endangered bluefin tuna, and tried to ask the waitstaff about the sustainability of the sushi they serve. (See articles here, here, and here for more details regarding the dine-in.) It is reported that the participants did tip the waiters that evening, because Nobu’s practices are not the responsibility of the waitstaff.

Another such event has been scheduled for tonight at the Nobu in West Hollywood, California.

So I want to know: what do you think about this? Do you think the tactics of Greenpeace were effective? Do you believe Nobu and other restaurants should be left alone to serve whatever they wish? How do you feel about the issue of sustainability as it applies to seafood?

Note: I have never used bluefin tuna on Sushi Day. When I use tuna, I always make a point to use the more sustainable, less endangered yellowfin tuna.

Another note: I really want to hear your opinions, everyone. But please keep it polite and civil – it helps no one if this degenerates into a flame war, and I really don’t want to have to butt in and moderate you guys.

Last note, I promise: Don’t worry, Sushi Day won’t turn into a news-centric site. I’ll be back with another sushi recipe within a couple of days, promise.

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  1. Kevin Mark says:

    with so many other tasty fish, why not make an example of the endagered tuna and try all the other raw goodies. I rarely eat tuna and I still enjoy what I eat at the Sushi bar. Uni, geoduck, markrel, eel, yellowtail (my fav)

  2. Casson says:

    Nobu is a trend-setting establishment that not only spans the globe, but wields incredible influence at the top of the sushi industry food chain. The innovative akumen and staggering talent of Nobu Matsuhisa are undeniable; he is undoubtedly capable of creating delectable dishes from both sustainable and unsustainable sources alike. Why, then, is he so resistant to use these gifts in an environmentally friendly manner?

    Still, viewing this issue as “environmentalists v Nobu” is missing the point. Both groups want the same outcome: a healthy and productive ocean that can provide all the ecosystem services to foster sustainable business and healthy living. If Nobu were to drop bluefin and adopt a sustainable business model, it would be in the interest of the environmental community to promote the restaurant and encourage consumers to patronize it, rather than the unfortunate current situation.

    Nobu needs to change their practices and begin to demonstrate corporate responsibility. Although environmentally rapacious and irresponsible businesses no longer have a place in this changing world, it is in everyone’s interest that sustainable and wisely managed establishments thrive and succeed.

  3. Joel says:

    Hey Casson! Loved your book and my visit to Tataki. Is salmon in season yet? I’ll have to visit Tataki when it is.

    I have to agree. If Nobu were to take Tataki’s model of sustainable sushi, it would have a ripple effect throughout the world. A single establishment’s choices do not matter all that much, but anything that would affect all of the Americanizushi garbage restaurants would be *huge*.

  4. Karen Swim says:

    Allison, excellent, balanced reporting on this issue. I care about the environment and try to exercise responsibility as a consumer and citizen of the planet.I share information with others but am never dogmatic. I agree that if Nobu changed their practices it would have a huge impact throughout the global restaurant industry. However, true change will come from educated consumers who vote with their dollars. If patrons stop ordering the bluefin sushi and make it known that they support sustainable choices, Nobu and other restaurants will change.

    Karen Swim’s last blog post… Is The Ladders a Scam?

  5. Marisa says:

    Allison, thank you for addressing this as well as providing recipes that don’t include bluefin tuna. It has always been my opinion that the more information available on this topic, the better.

    I believe the California Roll could save bluefin tuna.

    It may interest people to know that the California Roll was invented as a means to duplicate the feel of toro (which comes from bluefin tuna) in the mouth. Back before sushi was popular with Americans, sushi chefs were having trouble getting toro for their Japanese clientele in California. So they combined ingenuity with what was available and abundant (crab and avocado) to create something new altogether. (I wrote a piece about this on my site.)

    I’ve always thought that promoting sustainability goes just a bit further than removing endangered fish from our sushi menus. If we as a sushi community can lift the stigma of “creative sushi” as being somehow a less than authentic sushi experience, then we can really help push the sustainable movement. Perhaps we can teach the public to think differently. Rather than thinking “Great, now they’re taking away all of the stuff I like to eat!” maybe we could encourage creative sushi as a new adventure that promises to deliver undiscovered wonders. In other words, what will be the California Rolls of our generation?

    Marisa’s last blog post… How To Sharpen a Knife…Creatively (and Cheaply)

  6. Katharine says:

    While I support sustainable sushi, I am uncomfortable with some of the methods described in this post. The emphasis should be on spreading awareness to consumers about sustainable choices (Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch wallet-sized guides are great) through normal distribution channels, rather than on publicity stunts that can disrupt the experience of other diners. They paid their money the same as anyone else to be there, and despite my support for the sentiment, I would have been furious if, say, my husband and I had made reservations there to celebrate our tenth anniversary and Greenpeace was doing this. It is tremendously selfish; I’ve never been impressed by such self-aggrandizing acts, and I don’t know anyone who has been converted to a cause from such — they always seem to be preaching to the choir.

    The best solution is to simply educate — print out a Monterey guide to put on a bulletin board at work; ask local restaurants *politely* if they serve sustainable sushi – send them a letter, etc. Make it so that it is simply not profitable to serve bluefin. But don’t disrupt the restaurant’s livelihood and the experience of innocent bystanders by being inconsiderate. It’s rude, and it doesn’t win anyone over to the cause. Activism is more productive when it doesn’t alienate.

  7. Sustainable Sushi » Blog Archive » Why Nobu must evolve says:

    […] from a vast international amalgamation of scientists, actors, conservation organizations, foodies, bloggers, aquaria, filmmakers, and even a European Prince, Nobu resolutely presses forward, offering no […]

  8. Chris says:

    Until the governments ban fishing of a species it will be caught and consumed. As in the case of herring in Massachusetts, ilegal to posses or catch, stiff and substantial fines if caught. Once it is protected by law Regulations on serving “endangered” species should be set with imoposing fines- such as in the case with being caught ivory and animal skins of endangered animals. But until it is a protected species by law it will always be at risk. I think they should outlaw dragging (sorry those for it) and stick to old fashioned – rod & reel fishing. So many fish caught that are not targeted by draggers- bycatch – are hurt and sometimes killed indiscriminantly. Problem lies with getting it protected first and giving the species a chance to rebound.

  9. Darren says:

    Darren’s last blog post… NOW ONLINE! Center for Social Advocacy’s NEW Website

  10. Chris says:

    I must say that I like good food and sushi as well. I have eaten bluefin tuna and I must say I liked it a lot, especially part called otoro, most fat part of it. Hard to say, but if you like to taste it, now is the time. You never know when it is too late. True, I agree, not most popular way of thinking, but that is my way.

  11. Michael Schoonmaker says:

    As long as there are alternatives, I say use ’em. Stick to yellowfin if you must have tuna. Otherwise, try new things – it’s not as hard as you may think!

    As Gary Vaynerchuk would say, “Expand your palate!”

  12. Chris says:

    well I never say no for yellowfin tuna, Avocado, scallop, salmon, unagi or what ever on my sushi or sashimi plate. Bluefin is welcome as well.

  13. Chris says:

    meaning was that, if you like to taste it, now it the time… sounds hard but true… I am sorry but that is just my way of thinking…

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  15. sustainable seafood says:

    This action is long overdue. Europe was certainly at the forefront of the sustainability movement and its good to see it begin to happen in the U.S.

    I am all for harvesting wild seafood but when countries are exceeding levels that species can handle the consumer should be aware and hopefully pass up the product.

    While American commercial fishing boats get a tiny allotment of the fish, illegal overfishing of bluefin outside the USA has been well documented.

  16. Sustainable Sushi at Mashiko – Seattle, WA - Sushi Day - says:

    […] Protesting Bluefin Tuna […]

  17. Karen says:

    With the way dolphins are treated in the tuna nets and the high levels of mercury in some kinds of tuna, I’ve just about given up on eating tuna all together.

  18. Brenna says:

    Bluefin tuna species are getting less already because of illegal fishing and poaching from fishermen. In fact we must act to save those species.

  19. I Love Seafood says:

    The bluefin issue needs to be blogged about so that more people realize the species is the target of so much illegal fishing. By choosing bluefin as a meal choice, we may be fueling the problem unless there is a method for knowing the source. American and Canadian fishermen harvest bluefin ethically, but not all nations do.

  20. Nautical Art says:

    There have been a lot of articles in the media about this issue in the last couple weeks. It looks like the USA and much of Europe is putting pressure on for the CITES listing of bluefin tuna as endangered, which will curtail almost all trade of the species.

  21. Seafood Chef says:

    We must have some conservation to preserve all the fish in the seas. We just may have to stop fishing. This is not an everlasting wildlife. If we would stop for a few years the picture would look much better for all the fish wildlife.

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