Sunday, July 5, 2009

Off the Shelf: 'Tuna: A Love Story' by Richard Ellis

Yep, it's a book about tuna. More specifically, though, it's a book about the bluefin tuna, one of the largest tuna species in the world. (The author does touch on other tuna species.)

Although Melissa and I don't eat a lot of fish or seafood -- less than we should, actually -- it was interesting to read about some of the intricacies of the fishing trade.

One of those was revealed in the first chapter, which dealt with Port Lincoln in Australia, where the modern tuna fisheries really exploded. Individual transferable catch quotas were designed to allow fishers to leave without losing a ton of money by transferring their catch quotas to another company in exchange for cash. Instead, what happened is a few companies ended up with a majority of the catch quotas, thereby dominating the industry.

Also in that chapter is the description of the "humane" way in which tuna are usually killed: Tuna are in pens and are shoved up a ramp onto a boat where someone grabs it by the gills and hauls it partially out of the water. Then a metal spike is shoved into its brain. And, of course, a different rod is plunged into its backbone so the fish meat does not tense up, thereby spoiling it.

Other killing methods include isolating a tuna so they can be shot by riflemen or are hauled out of the water and cut, allowing them to bleed out.

But much of the book delves into how bluefin are overfished and are loosing stock each year. For instance, fishers used to think that bluefins on each side of the Atlantic were separate species, but scientists who tagged fish found that they can swim from the American Atlantic seaboard to the Mediterranean. Fishers used to fish both stocks and think their numbers were separate, but since that was proved false, it means those bluefins are being over-fished even more than they were before.

In addition, some of the largest bluefin are being caught. That could be bad because it seems as though the larger bluefins have a higher chance of having their eggs successfully hatched, meaning catching the bigger fish could reduce the chance of bluefin re-population. Or the rate of re-population at the very least.

Some species of tuna are thought to seek shelter from dolphins and other sea creatures. Because of this, some fishers hunt for packs of dolphins to find tuna, which means some dolphins end up being caught when fishermen are trying to catch tuna.

Ultimately, the main reason these fish are being caught in abundance is the inclination of the Japanese diet, which places a high value on tuna sushi and sashimi.

And my favorite quote was from Barbara Block, who christened tuna "the cocaine of the sea."


Lo said...

Sounds like an interesting read. Do you think the conclusion that most tuna is being caught for Japanese consumption is a fair assumption?

Dan said...

Yeah, the author has a lot of statistics to back up that finding. And I should add that it's not just Japanese; the American market has been growing with the growth of sushi and sashimi restaurants in this country.