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January 11, 2011

Bluefin Need More Help than a Boycott

Grist has a good piece by Marc Rumminger on the call for a consumer bluefin tuna boycott by the Center for Biological Diversity. So, yeah, you all should stop eating Atlantic bluefin tuna. Rumminger also reminds us that, thanks to the Center which submitted a successful petition, the National Marine Fisheries Service is actively considering declaring the Atlantic bluefin tuna an endangered species. This wouldn't do much to stop Japan, which eats about 80% of the Atlantic bluefin catch -- but would end legal consumption in the US and protect the bluefin's breeding ground.

But another sustainable fish article worth your time is Salon's interview with Paul Greenberg, author of Four Fish, on the very possibility of sustainable seafood. He makes several good points. He observes that consumer behavior is useful, but can't really save particular fish:
My feeling is that the "choose the right fish" approach is an excellent way to teach consumers about the different aspects of fishing and aquaculture and that does have a multiplier effect over time. But as an economic lever for change it doesn't really have that much effect.
And, of course, he notes the irony that identifying a fish as "sustainable" can put that fish at risk for overexploitation since "everyone will eat it and then it won't be sustainable anymore. It will be in our stomachs."

As a sidenote, he also recommends East Coasters use the Blue Ocean Institute's sustainable seafood guide. The Institute seems to have greater knowledge of particular East Coast fisheries than the more popular California-based Seafood Watch -- worth knowing given that sometimes particular species or areas are sustainable within a larger fishery that's not. This only works, however, if you know and trust the source of your fish.

Which brings us back to the bluefin: the bluefin boycott by the Center for Biological Diversity is really just a marketing campaign for the real action -- its campaign to have the government list the species as endangered. It's nice to think that everyone can do the right thing and save the world -- but we have governments for a reason and sometimes they have to actually, you know, do something. So, unless the US and other governments start taking a stand and enacting real protections for threatened fish like the bluefin, don't expect any happy endings.

Photo credit: TANAKA Juuyoh

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