If you’re wondering why the bluefin tuna appears to be well and truly screwed, here’s a clue: Yesterday, in a triumphant haze of pomp and publicity, a 593-pound bluefin caught in the waters off Japan sold for the record price of $736,000 in an auction at Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market. For the math-inclined, according to the AP, that’s $1,238 per pound, which is also a record.
The winning bidder was Kiyoshi Kimura, the owner of a chain of sushi restaurants. He explained that his exorbitant purchase was basically his version of a pep rally: “Rather than let [the fish] get taken overseas,” he wanted to give Japan, which is still recovering from last year’s tsunami, something to smile about.
But if sushi magnates like Kimura have their way, there won’t be any bluefin left to eat in Japan, or anywhere else. For years, environmentalists have been warning us that overfishing is imperiling the bluefin’s survival; according to most estimates, stocks have plummeted by 80 percent over the last 40 years.
Still, that’s just not dire enough for the National Marine Fisheries Service, which late last year announced a new rule that nearly doubled the maximum daily bluefin catch and extended the length of the fishing season. In response, the center for Biological Diversity has filed a lawsuit against the government to challenge the new rule. “This rule enables fishermen to chase the remaining bluefin tuna down the Atlantic Coast on their way to reproduce in the Gulf of Mexico,” Catherine Kilduff, an attorney for the Center, said in the release announcing the lawsuit. “At some point, the last bluefin tuna will be caught, and there’ll be no fishery left at all.”
Whether or not the lawsuit will be successful remains to be seen, but it does seem clear that you can’t legislate stupidity, and also that barring any lightbulbs going on at the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna, which has already given the albacore tuna a decisive push towards extinction, the only hope for bluefin lies with consumer boycotts like this one.