What’s with the $400,000 bluefin tuna that just sold at a new year’s auction in Tokyo? Nothing. This recurring headline of extravagantly priced tuna is one of those news items that leaves you with less knowledge than you had before you heard about it. That’s because the only reason any bidder at the Tokyo auction ever pays that much for a fish is to deliberately spend way more than any sane person should. Blowing that much on a tuna is either a celebration of recent profits, or a bid for publicity to boost a restaurant or distributor’s profile. In short, it’s money spent on advertising, not on fish. And clearly, while very expensive, it’s a technique that works.
Which is not to dismiss the larger, very real, and very sad trend of generally increasing prices for bluefin tuna due to their growing scarcity. At this rate, it’s only a matter of time before the global sushi industry wipes these majestic fish off the face of the earth.
This is a difficult issue, because popular opinion in Japan seems to interpret efforts to limit bluefin fishing as an attack by the West on Japanese culture. (Ditto for whaling.)
I feel that’s an interpretation that’s been pushed by Japanese business interests that have a stake in the bluefin trade, which is unfortunate.
Personally, I’m a big fan of Japanese culture, and I always point out that bluefin tuna isn’t really a traditional sushi ingredient at all. Go back a few decades and the authentic sushi culture of Japan actually valued other, smaller fish like breams, flounders, jacks, and mackerel.
But of course, in Japan I’m just a gaijin—an outsider. Never mind that I learned what I know about sushi from reading Japanese books in Japanese.
This a slide from the A/V presentation that I show with my lectures. I tell the audience a bit about the amazing bluefin tuna, and then explain what is happening with the overfishing of this majestic beast, and then I ask, “Would you eat a tiger burger?”
Hey, I have an idea: all fishermen around the world can only catch things with kayaks. No more factory trawlers, no more high-tech depth sounders and plotters, just you, your rod, and your kayak. Solves the overfishing dilemma right there.
Japan National Broadcasting’s International Morning News reports on my efforts to educate Americans about the plight of the bluefin tuna and show them the many other types of delicious sushi that are more traditional. (Aired Nov. 2, 2009; selections.)