Posted tagged ‘bluefin’

Sushi: The Global Catch

August 2, 2012

I received my introduction to the knee-jerk hostility that many in the marine conservation world display toward aquaculture about three years ago, in the Q&A session following a private screening of the film version of The End of the Line, Charles Clover’s book on overfishing. A young lady near the back of the auditorium asked why the film gave little to no attention to aquaculture as part of the solution to the problem of global overfishing and, from the response of the producers and many in the audience, I fully expected a fistfight to break out over the issue.

The world’s love affair with sushi has driven the bluefin tuna to the brink of extinction.

So, imagine my pleasant shock this week, when attending a similar sneak preview of Sushi: The Global Catch — indie filmmaker Mark Hall’s documentary on the history of sushi and its impact on marine health — to find a film that not only acknowledges but embraces aquaculture!

The film very effectively tells the story of how sushi went from being an esoteric delicacy to a global food staple over a few decades.  It does a great job of describing the rise of the industry without demonizing the product’s producers or consumers and is full of interesting observations, such as the role of Japan Airlines in driving the growth of sushi in the 1970s as a means of putting something — anything — in its cargo planes when they were returning from delivering Japanese-made goods to North America and Europe. This economic need on the part of the airline, combined with the rise of improved refrigeration methods, played a key role in the global trade in bluefin tuna and other species.

Sushi: The Global Catch describes the problem of tuna overfishing and provides a balanced account of the tension between market dynamics and ocean health in the context of a growing and increasingly affluent global population. It spends a great deal of time (almost too much, I would argue) exploring the dubious promise of bluefin farming. I would like to have seen more attention paid to other species, such as cobia and barramundi, that are being responsibly farmed in open-ocean and in enclosed recirculating aquaculture systems and to the positive, restorative impacts that can be derived from shellfish farming.  Noticeably lacking was any discussion of shrimp, one of the top three (along with tuna and salmon) popular seafood options and, when fished or farmed irresponsibly, one of the most destructive of marine environments.

But these are nitpicks. The fact that this film could be financed and produced at all is a sign to me that the cause of seafood sustainability is, albeit slowly, gaining traction in popular culture and that “aquaculture” need not be a dirty word in the discussion. I strongly recommend seeing Sushi: The Global Catch, which opens in theaters tomorrow (Aug. 3) in four cities (in New York City, the Quad Cinema) and, if you’re not near one of those locations, hosting a screening.


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