A Tuna Mercury Roll, Please

Wednesday was a very bad day for a few sushi restaurant owners. But it was rather good for the bluefin tuna. Marian Burros reported in the New York Times that—well, let’s just cut to the devastating lede: “Recent laboratory tests found so much mercury in tuna sushi from 20 Manhattan stores and restaurants that at most of them, a regular diet of six pieces a week would exceed the levels considered acceptable by the Environmental Protection Agency.”

Um … yikes! Even worse, five of the sushi samples had so much mercury that the FDA “could take legal action to remove the fish from the market.”

Burros quotes Drew Nieporent, a managing partner of Nobu Next Door, as saying, “I’m startled by this. Anything that might endanger any customer of ours, we’d be inclined to take off the menu immediately and get to the bottom of it.” To which the only reasonable response is: What? How could you possibly be startled? It’s not that hard: Big, long-lived fish collect lots of mercury; tuna, especially bluefin, can be really big and old; therefore, tuna has lots of mercury.

As Samuel Fromartz notes on Chews Wise, “If you are in the seafood business, you’d have to be deaf, dumb and blind to ignore the mercury warnings on tuna, especially in larger species like bluefin where mercury [is] known to accumulate.” Fromartz also touches on what may be the real news here: Everyone’s apparently still serving bluefin, a wondrous species that is famously, famously endangered. “There have been gobs of articles on the plight of the bluefin for years, and this illuminating piece from 60 Minutes this past weekend that is worth watching if you haven’t seen it.”

The Times talked to the head of the FDA’s chemical hazard assessment team: He said that the agency was already reviewing its seafood mercury warnings. And later in the story he added this, which I’m surprised the Times didn’t play up: “A couple of months ago the F.D.A. became aware of bluefin tuna as a species Americans are eating.” A couple of months ago?