It’s hard to resist delicately crafted green dragon rolls, addictive spicy salmon maki with glistening rice and sesame seeds, and carefully arranged slices of melt-in-your-mouth sashimi – all quickly skinny-dipped in a salty wasabi soy sauce bath.
However, if you enjoy sushi more times a month than you can remember, you might want to take some things into consideration. Especially for those in student mode who hunt for the best all-you-can-eat options: buyer beware. Some sushi can not only hurt your distended stomach, but could also be hurting the oceans themselves. Being a sushi enthusiast means you are an ocean enthusiast by extension. It may sound counterintuitive, but there could be hidden costs to all-you-can-eat sushi that open a giant tube of wasabi.
Eating certain types of sushi can be unsustainable. While it’s hard to believe that just one sushi meal has a large impact, it is our collective appetites that have fished large predatory fish such as unsustainable tuna down to a fraction of their population sizes. In fact, fishing unsustainably is currently one of the most threatening issues facing our oceans. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations recently found that over 90 per cent of global fisheries are fished at, or over maximum sustainable levels. If we continue things as is, we could run out of wild fish in the near future.
It’s not just the sheer volume of fish being taken out of the ocean that is the problem, but the way they are caught and how their respective fisheries are managed. Some fishing gear is extremely unselective. When kilometres of nets and lines are set out in thousands, many non-targeted species can be caught, such as juvenile fish that have not reproduced yet, endangered sea turtles, top predator sharks, seabirds, whales and dolphins. The numbers of non-targeted species can even outweigh the target species.
Some fishing gear is also destructive to the seafloor. For example, bottom trawling consists of dragging a very heavy apparatus on the bottom, effectively razing down everything in its path.
While aquaculture or fish farming is slowly supplementing the supply of fish, there have been some concerns. High densities of fish in one pen facilitate the spread of disease that could affect wild stocks, and produces lots of untreated waste. Pulling fish out of the ocean to feed aquaculture species can also be unsustainable.
Thankfully, people are starting to learn about these issues, and luckily for us, some of these people are brilliant sushi chefs or restaurateurs. Just Sushi (Toronto), Fukasaku of Prince Rupert (Prince Rupert, B.C.) and RawBar at the Fairmont Pacific Rim (Vancouver) all launched as 100 per cent Ocean Wise sushi restaurants within the last year. There is also a growing list of Ocean Wise partner sushi restaurants that offer a portion of Ocean Wise options on their menu, labeled with the Ocean Wise symbol so they are easy to spot. By paddling in the right direction, restaurants are not only offering delicious, high-quality sushi items to water our mouths, but also bringing to light the pressing problem of overfishing.
Meanwhile, our power as a consumer is to vote with our dollar. Choosing ocean-friendly seafood from a fishery that can sustain itself in the long term is a smart choice. To get you started, look for tuna that has been caught by pole from well-managed abundant stocks, such as albacore. And for a guilt-free dynamite roll or ten orders of shrimp tempura smothered in the spicy mayo you asked for on the side, look for either Ocean Wise SELVA shrimp or B.C. spot prawns, species that are caught and farmed with much lower impact than some of the other imported options.
It may seem overwhelming and hard to remember, but the Aquarium’s Ocean Wise program makes it easy. Before you reach for your salmon sashimi, reach for your phone. The Ocean Wise iPhone app or the Ocean Wise website is a simple, yet powerful resource that will allow you to choose to keep our ocean pantry plentiful. Best of all, it means you will be able to enjoy the occasional sushi gorge-fests for a long time to come.
Guest blog by Ocean Wise Volunteer Megan Chen.