Sushi, which was once largely confined to the Tokyo street vendor scene, is now a worldwide obsession. Hanaya Yohei is credited with creating the modern version of sushi that so many people know and love at the end of Japan’s Edo period. Being more palatable to a wider range of tastes and quicker to prepare than the original, Yohei’s version of sushi was bound to come into favor across the globe. Today, sushi can be found virtually everywhere, from mall food courts and grocery store delis to high end restaurants and theme park food stalls. The dish is in high demand, and attracts more fans each year.
While sushi has experienced numerous reinventions in the form of vegetarian, vegan, dessert, and other versions which are more fun than authentic, most sushi consumed around the world is made of raw fish. As a result, the bluefin tuna, a very popular species used for making sushi, is being over-consumed. The demand for fresh sushi now outweighs the supply of fish available in the world’s oceans and water bodies, which is a big environmental issue. It’s doubtful that people will stop clamoring for rainbow rolls and maguro, so the question now is: how can people continue to enjoy eating sushi while decreasing the environmental impacts of its consumption?
Bluefin tuna is an ocean predator that plays a key role in water ecosystems. When the bluefin population is quickly reduced by commercial fishing, that throws off the balance of all other ocean species and creates a negative effect. Unfortunately, along with being one of the most overfished species, bluefin tuna is among the most prized for sushi and usually fetches high profits for restaurants that serve it. Other species favored for sushi making have also seen population declines.
Because of consumer demand, developing countries have increasingly turned to these fish species to export and boost their economies. This is a topic explored in the documentary Sushi: The Global Catch, which you can watch on Netflix and DirecTV. The film takes a crucial look at how economics, geopolitics, consumerism, and the worldwide population of bluefin have become intertwined due to the consumption of sushi.
The issue of overfishing has led to the introduction of sustainable sushi, which is typically sourced from fish farms with eco-friendly production methods. Sustainable sushi restaurants often skip serving their fare with chopsticks, as it saves trees and takes diners back to the Japanese tradition of eating sushi with the hands. They also avoid using bluefin in favor of species with a more stable population, such as albacore, yellowfin, mackerel, and freshwater eel.
People can both satisfy their cravings and help alleviate the problem of overfishing by choosing restaurants that are dedicated to serving sustainable sushi, and spreading the word about overfishing to friends and family who also enjoy eating the Japanese dish. Without becoming more aware of what over-consumption of fish does to the world’s oceans and doing something to reverse the trend, humanity will eventually have to confront a problem much bigger than a lack of sushi.