We Can’t Even Get Japan to Stop Whaling…

And now we’re going to have to try to get them to give up Maguro sushi.

Fearing that the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will deal a severe blow to the bluefin tuna, an environmental group is demanding that the government declare the fish an endangered species, setting off extensive new protections under federal law.


Both the Bush and Obama administrations tried to win greater international protection for the bluefin, but their efforts were derailed by opposition from countries like Japan, where a single large bluefin can sell in the sashimi market for hundreds of thousands of dollars. (The tuna fish sold in cans comes from more abundant types of tuna, not from bluefin.)

The bluefin uses the Gulf of Mexico as a prime spawning ground, and the gulf is such a critical habitat for the animal that fishing for it there was banned in the 1980s. But after spawning in the spring and summer, many tuna spend the rest of the year roaming the Atlantic, where they are hunted by a global fishing fleet.

The environmental advocacy group, the Center for Biological Diversity, in Tucson, filed the request under the Endangered Species Act in late May. If the petition is granted, a process that could take years, the endangered listing would require that federal agencies conduct exhaustive analysis before taking any action, like granting drilling permits, that would pose additional risk to the fish.

Frankly, I think a campaign to put bluefin tuna on the endangered species list would be beneficial for a number of reasons. If a bunch of elites have to give up their Maguro sushi, it’ll highlight both the problem with overfishing generally and the concrete way in which our oil-addicted lifestyle endangers the little perks of life we love (and don’t get me wrong–I love Maguro sushi too).

Which will it be? Give up your SUV, or give up your favorite sushi?

In the meantime, there are two things you can do to help.

The Center for Biological Diversity, which is leading this effort, has been one of the best environmental groups responding to the BP Disaster. You might help them in any way you can.

And check your seafood choices for sustainability before you eat it. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a great online tool (with pocket tools available) that provides recommendations for seafood choices based both on sustainability and health hazards, like mercury. In addition to bluefin, it also recommends you avoid Hamachi.

(Maguro image by pittaya under Creative Commons 2.0)

57 replies
    • emptywheel says:

      It is. Though I realize I’m going to have to give it a long review again, cause I didn’t know that Yellowtail was on there now. And Skate, which I ate earlier this week.

      Good thing I love Mackerel.

      • Rayne says:

        You can have my share of mackerel. Far too strong-tasting for my personal preference.

        I’m going to load up on squid and salmon now that I’ve given up tuna.

        • emptywheel says:

          Man, I’m scoring a stash of mackerel in this thread! I’m psyched.

          I’m also taking people’s bluefish and sardines, if you don’t like those either.

        • Rayne says:

          I don’t mind mackerel as in canned, use it in fish cakes. But not for sushi, sashimi or my personal favorite, chirashi. Overwhelms the rest of the meal.

          Ditto on bluefish. But not parting with sardines – they’re like ocean smelt. Yum.

          I’m going to miss an awful of favorites, am so sad that I won’t be able to safely introduce my kids for a very long time to stone crab claws, snapper, grouper. We used to go fishing for snapper and grouper near Fort Myers and Naples; by the time we get to Florida on vacation, it’ll surely be too contaminated to catch and eat these faves.

          Might be able to go fishing on Florida’s east coast, but the only thing I ever caught there was kingfish (when not eaten by barracudas once on the line). And you know what kingfish are?

          Mackerel. [sigh]

        • emptywheel says:

          Yup, I knew that King Fish = Mackerel. My dad caught a big one one year and we ate it all winter. Maybe that’s where my love of mackerel came from.

          Just hope your kids don’t mind you’ve given away all your mackerel to me.

        • Rayne says:

          Nah, they won’t mind. The older one loves perch, walleye and whitefish, salmon, tilapia, will be more heartbroken about giving up tuna sashimi. The younger one occasionally has a piece of perch/walleye, but is not a big fish eater.

          Speaking of salmon, probably time to fix sushi bowl for dinner – with a little salmon on top.

        • chetnolian says:

          What on earth did you do to make it keep? I love mackerel when it’s just caught, but because it’s a bottom feeder and feeds on things you’d rather not think about, it does go off incredibly quickly

        • dakine01 says:

          Don’t know if this works for mackerel, but my father used to freeze catfish and suckers (fresh water bottom feeders) in salt water immediately after cleaning if he knew he wouldn’t be cooking it that night.

        • BoxTurtle says:

          Yeah. And be sure to stock some Black Jack. I got a great recipe for grilled walleye in whisky sauce.

          Boxturtle (No matter how much fish we caught, it always seemed to take a full bottle)

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          If you’re in the mood, please post that walleye recipe. Ironically, the best walleye I ever ate was on a place called South Bass Island.

        • BoxTurtle says:

          Here it is. Be advised that my family has a tradition of stealing old family recipes from various sources. This recipe is uncredited, but wouldn’t be the first one stolen from Betty Cooker’s Crock Book.

          Jack Daniels, about a cup or to taste
          1 large onion. Better: Use two vidalia’s if you’re got them.
          4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
          2 cups heintz ketchup. Other brands don’t glaze as well.
          1/4 cup cider vinegar
          4 tablespoons Lee & Perrins Worcestershire sauce
          1/2 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
          3/4 cup molasses
          1 can Hunts tomato paste
          Salt, pepper, and tabasco to taste.

          Saute garlic and onion in a little oil (bacon grease is better), being careful not to burn the garlic about 2 minutes. Add Jack and saute until onion is translucent. Add everything else and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until reduced by 1/3 -1/2.

          Place walleye fillets on grill until you have char marks, then flip ’em until the other side is charred. You want the fillets about half cooked at this point. Brush the simmering sauce on the filets and return to grill, flipping frequently, until done and the sauce is glazed on. Serve with lemon, any remaining sauce, and any remaining whisky.

          Boxturtle (Recipe NOT guarenteed if specified brands aren’r used where indicated)

      • timbo says:

        You must try the smoked mackerel in Bergen, Norway…assuming though, of course, that you haven’t already. If only they’d hold a war crimes trial there or something–it is to dream.

  1. BayStateLibrul says:

    I don’t have a SUV, and I hate Sushi and all fish (Friday’s were a bad day).
    What do I do?

  2. john in sacramento says:

    Kinda on topic

    Is this as unusual as it seems to me?

    NEW ORLEANS — A federal judge who overturned a six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling imposed after Gulf oil spill refused Thursday to put his ruling on hold while the government appeals.


    Feldman had agreed to hold an emergency hearing by phone Thursday on a motion filed by several oilfield service companies who say the Obama administration is ignoring his ruling.

    But the judge informed attorneys only minutes before the call that he would rule without hearing oral arguments. The hearing would not have been open to the public.

    • bmaz says:

      No, it is not that unusual a district judge will not stay his own decision for appeal, and makes the requesting party seek the stay in the appellate court. Happens all the time.

      • scribe says:

        ACtually, it can sometimes be better to be denied the stay striaght out, rather than have to wait around for the judge to decide. IF the judge were feeling really cranky, he could hear argument on the application for a stay, reserve decision, and then come back with a decision after the occurrence of events which a stay had been sought to prevent. Even granting a stay in that situation would be the judge thumbing their nose at the offended litigant.

        Had it happen to me.

        • BoxTurtle says:

          Had it happen to me

          What did you do to annoy the judge? Or was he simply supporting the other side to the limits of the law?

          Boxturtle (Or was it simply a bad cup of coffee that morning?)

        • scribe says:

          This judge had earned a reputation of being, um, neither the brightest light on the bench nor one who liked to decide things. For example, this judge’s favorite way of resolving discovery motions was to tell the parties to go out in the hall and work it out, else someone would get sanctioned (usually the plaintiff for having the temerity to demand a day in court). Of course, a prerequisite for filing a discovery motion was a statement under oath by the party bringing the motion that they had tried to work this out and failed, so this judge’s method for not deciding motions was really a reward to the parties resisting discovery and an inducement to more of that behavior. Over time, the Peter Principle, seniority and tenure moved this judge into the part of the Court where foreclosures and equity things get decided. I had a foreclosure-type case in which I wanted to appeal an issue (on which the judge had erred) and needed a stay to avoid the sale that was coming up while the appeal was filed and waited in line for decision. Of course, telling the judge you wanted a stay meant you were going to appeal this judge’s ruling (so you were telepgraphing what this judge deemed disrespect) and this judge was pretty small-minded in addition to being not-too-bright, so instead of deciding, the judge reserved until right around the sale, thwarting my client’s right both to appeal and to try to preserve their property.

          This judge’s record and repute, so to speak, had the salutary aspect (from the judge’s perspective) of reducing the docket because no sane lawyer wanted to expose their client to the caprices of those chambers, so they would try anything to venue their cases in another county.

  3. prostratedragon says:

    Thanks for the Seafood Watch tip, EW. (Big fisheater here. But you may have most of my lifetime portion of mackerel.)

  4. BoxTurtle says:

    It would be easier to take tea from the British than it would be to take tuna away from the Japanese.

    However, given some of the sauces they use, they might like tuna flavored with with crude.

    Boxturtle (You ever tasted fish sauce? yeech!)

  5. alan1tx says:

    Which will it be? Give up your SUV, or give up your favorite sushi?

    Fair choice. I like my truck a lot more than sushi.

    And king crab are nowhere near the Gulf.

    • skdadl says:

      And king crab are nowhere near the Gulf.

      They’re in the Gulf Stream, though. So are a lot of other things I love.

      Me, I would say of fish what Ben Franklin said of beer. It hurts my heart that we have come close to wiping out so many stocks.

  6. scribe says:

    An interesting post from the Florida government (this is why we have state-funded universities and fish and wildlife departments). The key portion of the post, vis-a-vis bluefin spawning is this:

    Bluefin tuna are oviparous. In the Atlantic, spawning has been detected in only two areas: the Mediterranean and Gulf of Mexico. In the Pacific, spawning occurs off the Philippines. This is a limited spawning area compared to other tropical tunas. Little is known about the spawning of bluefin, as it has not been observed. Spawning in the Gulf of Mexico occurs from April to June and Mediterranean spawning occurs from June to August. Differences in timing could be due to any of a number of factors, such as differing environmental cues or genetic variation. In the Gulf of Mexico, spawning occurs at temperatures of 76.8 to 85.1 °F(24.9 to 29.5 °C) while in the Mediterranean it occurs at 66 to 70 °F (19-21 °C).

    In captivity, bluefin tuna have reached sexual maturity at 3 years, however others have suggested that bluefin become sexually mature at an age 4 to 5 years. Average females produce up to 10 million eggs per year. Their eggs are buoyant, and are distributed a considerable distance by the surface currents. The larvae hatch at a size of 3.0mm. They have large heads and large jaws, and lack body pigmentation. Larvae of Thunnus species are very difficult to distinguish from one another, however bluefin are the only Thunnus species to have dorsal tail pigment. (image from NMFS-SEFC-240) The larvae grow at 1 mm per day. In spawning areas, larval abundance ranges from 0.1 to 1.0 per square yard. The young, up to a size of 90 to 130 lbs. (40 to 80 kg), will separate into schools based upon size. These schools often consist of multiple species, possibly containing albacore, yellowfin, bigeye, skipjack, frigate tuna, bonito, and yellowtail.

    [all my bolding]

    You might say (And big oil will) that we couldn’t hardly declare them an endangered species because (a) they produce so many eggs and (b) we haven’t observed their spawning behavior in the wild, so maybe all those natural leaks of oil that happen in the Gulf are essential to their reproduction or (c) some other similar bullshit.

    The fact of the matter is that “not observing reproduction in the wild” is not for lack of trying. These giant tunas start off as eggs 3 millimeters in diameter – a bit bigger than the head of a pin. Best guesstimate on the how is that the egg-laying and fertilization takes place in the open ocean where everything just kind of mixes and the eggs float (being buyoant) until they hatch. (The price of bluefin and commercial desire for them yields under the lightest touch of deductive reasoning that if they were digging nests and spawning like salmon, someone would have long since discovered where and how, and exploited that behavior into extinction. That they haven’t means the fish don’t.) That so many eggs get laid and so few tunas reach that giant size should tell everyone one thing – everything that swims likes the taste of tuna. (Like rabbits – parts of their job description is to reproduce prolifically and taste good.) It’s only men that can catch up to the adults.

    But the most telling, and dangerous-to-the-tuna fact, is that their eggs will be floating in the Gulf along with all the oil, dispersant, tar balls and whatever. If they aren’t scooped up by the skimmers, they’ll get gummed up in the oil, poisoned by the oil, genetically/teratologicaly warped to death by the dispersant, starved by their food sources having been killed by the oil or dispersant, or suffocated by all the things depriving them of oxygen.

      • scribe says:

        You’re welcome.

        I think it fair to conclude, BTW, that the big decline in bluefin stocks came, starting in the 70s, with the availability of air freight that could take them to Japan quickly enough to be usable as sushi. Until then, you just couldn’t get them to market quickly enough, even though it would seem the largest catches in the western Atlantic were off Cape Cod, which meant they were either not pursued or were consumed locally. Another example, it would seem, where being a locavore is consonant with good ecological practice.

  7. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Sush or the SUV? Let’s give up both and try farm-raised catfish, or Perch and walleye from Lake Erie. When Cheney said we consumed 20% of the world’s oil, but produced only 2% of its crude, he wasn’t just deriding energy conservation as a “personal virtue”, but not a fit subject for government involvement. He was setting the stage for war. We now have a unique convergence of war, oil and over-consumption. Thanks for putting it to good effect, EW.

    I see (from an online source whose name temporarily escapes me)** that a Louisiana parish thinks it’s just fine for one of its off-duty sheriff deputies to moonlight for BP – while in uniform and driving his official patrol car, and using both to harass a legitimate reporter who was photographing BP’s clean-up efforts from public property. The reporter-conservationist “might have been a terrorist” was the explanation.

    The off-duty deputy also rode shotgun, that is, stopped and detained the reporter on a public highway, while a “chief of security” from BP asked him questions for 20 minutes. Intimidation? Absolutely. Illegal, quite possibly. Venue to resolve the conflicts? None I can see that’s working.

    ** The source was Susie Madrak at C&L.

    • Hmmm says:

      Personally, I’m perfectly happy to discuss adjusting the American way of life. Darth Cheney notwithstanding. Sweaters and lower thermostats and no SUVs: All good!

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          Cottage pie is a useful way to serve it; it does require more cooking than lamb. There’s always the Mongolian firepot method – take an old metal milk tin filled with stones, water and mutton, and place it on the campfire. Enjoy a few hours on your pony, leaving someone behind to tend the fire. Return and voila, a splendid, simple meat dish. More common with goat than sheep.

        • skdadl says:

          You mention Mongolian hotpot. Y’know, when we heard that a couple (?) of the Uighurs were going to Switzerland, it struck me immediately that they’d fit right in with another people who are good at fondue. Switzerland was a great choice.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          They will probably fit in about as well as the gypsies. Life will be rule-bound, but enjoyable and visually supremely appealing, infinitely more so than their experience of it at the hands of an over-zealous US national security regime.

        • Hmmm says:

          Well… prob’ly just me, but you can keep the mutton part.

          ‘Specially if it’s in sashimi format…

  8. mzchief says:

    I love sashimi and used to enjoy it. A neighbor used to go deep sea fishing for blue fin tuna in Delaware and would give it away there was so much (yea, it’s true, “873-pound bluefin tuna caught off Delaware“). BUT, with mercury levels in most fish, even the coveted salmon available (not farm-raised and only from certain locations; see Facts For Fish Eaters), it would be better to eat true organic (not all organic is equal) hemp given its impressive nutritional value and relative inexpensiveness (environmental and production-wise).

    P.S. I’d like to see a more aggressive reduction in the EPA standards of allowed heavy metals in municipal sludges as these are in agricultural use and folks are walking around with more accumulated heavy metal toxicity than they think– especially without the “cheap” unregulated lead-tainted foods flooding our markets from China.

    • Hmmm says:

      Blackwater’s Prince: Congress gave me ‘proctology’

      Prince Erik channels Frank Booth: “DON’T YOU F*^*ING LOOK AT ME!!!!”

    • skdadl says:

      Holy mackerel, as we used to say when I were a tad. That guy runs on the theory that he’s safer the more public he goes, yes? What else can explain the way he talks?

  9. DuttonPeabody says:

    Just came over the wires –

    AGADIR, Morocco — Sperm whales feeding even in the most remote reaches of Earth’s oceans have built up stunningly high levels of toxic and heavy metals, according to American scientists who say the findings spell danger not only for marine life but for the millions of humans who depend on seafood.

    A report released Thursday noted high levels of cadmium, aluminum, chromium, lead, silver, mercury and titanium in tissue samples taken by dart gun from nearly 1,000 whales over five years. From polar areas to equatorial waters, the whales ingested pollutants that may have been produced by humans thousands of miles away, the researchers said.


  10. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Apologies to anyone upthread who may have already posted this, but here’s a moderately good article on the perils of bluefin and its attractiveness as sushi/sashimi. It’s a little breathless and anthropomorphic, it’s the NYT Magazine, but it gets the word out to a wider audience.

  11. panther45 says:

    Australia is taking Japan to the International court to stop the whaling. New Zealand May be joining in.

  12. scribe says:

    By moonlight the other night, I took a bass that came in at 4 1/2 lb on the butcher’s scale. Smallies make a wonderful fish chowder.

    And the method for keeping fish really really fresh in the freezer goes like this:

    Take a freshly caught and cleaned fish and put it in an appropriate-sized container. Head first works better. Fill the container with water until the fish is entirely covered and there are no air bubbles. Freeze in this position. Fish frozen this way will keep up to two years (yes, years. I’ve done it.) in your freezer so long as it’s entirely encased in ice – the fact that it’s frozen inside the ice prevents freezer burn and all the other bad things that happen when frozen foods go stale or bad. Just be aware that self-defrosting freezers work by drying out ice, so make sure the containers are tightly sealed.

    A quart or half gallon milk carton will work admirably well for your basic trout. A gallon-size ziploc bag will work pretty well for anything up to 18 inches or so, so long as you can bend the fish to fit and the fins don’t have spines that will puncture the bag.

    When the time comes to cook, give the fish a day or two in the fridge to thaw.

    As to why mackerel go badly so quickly, it’s because they are so oily. The oil goes rancid really quickly. Same problem with bluefish.

    And all your sardines are now imported. The last sardine cannery in Maine and the US closed this past spring.

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