April 15, 2010

Bye Bye Bluefin

Print More

I’m going to throw some cards on the table. I have, at several moments in my life, had sexual relations with eaten blue fin tuna. It was delicious and entirely regrettable. If, let’s say, in fifty years, I look back on my life and ask: “Hmm, I wonder what I could have done without?” The blue fin would be somewhere on that list along with “anything-but-clothes” mixers and the capital gains tax. Anyone will tell you that I am a big fan of eating living things. I do it all the time and I eat almost anything — from freaky tentacled things to lamb’s brains. So, bear witness, here I am, meat and fish-eater extraordinaire, telling you that it’s just not delicious enough to warrant its destruction.

The blue fin has been labeled critically endangered for some time. Its levels have fallen below 15 percent of its historical maximum. The ICCAT, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic tunas, sets the quotas for fishing of the Atlantic blue fin. Instead of conserving the fish, they have presided over decades of overfishing. In 2008, ICCAT set a final quota of 22,000 tons, ignoring the advice of scientists that fishing not extend beyond 15,000 tons. They also allowed fishing during the spawning months. Seriously? In a press release for their yearly meeting, ICCAT announced that they would be cutting the quota to 13,500 tons in 2010, in order to get the fish back to “sustainable levels.” This short paragraph was followed by lots of pattings on the back about the progress of the swordfish. Seriously? The damage is done. The population has been reduced by as much as 82 percent in some places. Whoever came up with the idea that ICCAT really stands for “the International Conspiracy to Catch All Tuna” was a genius, and also totally correct. How about the “Idiot Charlatans Catching Awesome fish for Themselves?” Not as good? In short, ICCAT has failed miserably.

Why protect the blue fin? The blue fin is a majestic fish. They can grow to be anywhere from 300 to 1000 pounds. I advise you to Google Image blue fin tunas. They’re bigger than lots of sharks and dolphins. Some are even bigger than the most obese Americans. They are totally epic. They shouldn’t be protected just because they’re cool, obviously, although, in my book (that says cool animals are better than most things, including all of New Jersey), that’s enough. Uncreative types have apparently called the blue fin, “the pinnacle” of fish evolution. They are amazing swimmers; their bodies are almost perfectly adapted to their environment. I say, let’s keep the fittest around to see what happens next, seeing that 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity is under the sea — its better, down where it’s wetter, you sea?

Second, seeing as this fish is so delicious, why don’t we try to get it back to a healthy level, so people Japan can keep eating it without damaging the species? Lastly, and MOST importantly, as The Economist pointed out last week, this is a species that we can actually save. It’s consumed by wealthy nations and doesn’t compete with any other species (namely humans) for resources. The tools are at our disposal. A trade ban would work.

Too bad the recent proposal to ban the trade of blue fin tuna put before CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, at a meeting in Doha, was voted down. Twist! Not so much. Japan, which consumes 80 percent of the global blue fin catch, has been lobbying heavily against the proposal. What’s worse, the Libyan representative stood up at the meeting, shouted at everyone and accused the scientists of being crazy liars (They’re not, by the way). They’re peddling the made-up, wackadoo science, of course, that is almost universally acknowledged to truthfully indicate the future extinction of the species. Guess what happened next! The Libyan delegation forced a vote using procedural rules preventing any in-depth discussion of the scientific research. Politics won the day with its usual heavy-hitters — a loud voice and general ignorance.

We could blame this on Libya and Japan. Libya, on the production end, enjoys revenues from fishing and is less able than other producers, like Spain, France and the U.S., to make up the losses. Japan, however, just wants the fish. They just want to eat it. Give me back that fillet of fish … Give me back that fish… What if it were you hanging up on that wall, Japan? Yes, it’s yummy, but there are millions of other fishies to eat. Pick on them for a while, and then, in some years, you’ll have the blue fins back — if it isn’t already too late.

However, this is really a failure on the part of those nations who export the largest amount of blue fin. The U.S., France and Spain bowed to domestic pressures from the lucrative industry’s lobbies. They didn’t push the issue, allowed Libya to make a joke play and Japan to strong-arm them, because they didn’t have the political will — yet. March 18th was a day when politics beat science. The answer: The science needs to get more political. Increasing awareness in nations that catch the blue fin is the best hope for generating enough motivation to pass this proposal at the next meeting of CITES. 80 percent of these fish are going to Japan, but plenty are consumed here in the U.S. at restaurants like Nobu and Sushi Yasuda in New York.

Additionally, a study conducted in 2009 of sushi served in restaurants in New York, Denver and Colorado, using new DNA identification, found that 25 percent of fish advertized as “Tuna” was, in fact, blue fin. It’s a den of endangered fish-eating sin over there! What you can do: Donate and volunteer for a conservation group of your choice that supports the ban, many may have local campaigns dedicated to eliminating the fish from restaurants.

As a final message: There are millions of delicious things to eat on this planet. Go eat them. If you’re looking for some (aquatic) strange, I hear the Chesapeake Bay is overflowing with Sting Rays that are decimating the oyster population. From what I saw on Japanese Iron Chef the other day, it looks delicious. Eating is awesome. Eating non-endangered things is the best!

Rabia Muqaddam is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be contacted at rmuqaddam@cornellsun.com. The Argument Clinic appears alternative Fridays this semester.

Original Author: Rabia Muqaddam