Over the past several decades, one of the trendiest dishes in popular cuisine, from Brazil to Japan to the US, is sushi. This dish may wax and wane in popularity, but it is always present throughout many cultures and there will inevitably always be a market for it among omnivores. However, the American demand for sushi and other seafood is doing more harm to the oceans and its animal inhabitants than you may think. If overfishing isn't regulated soon, it may have an irreversible effect on the ocean's ecosystem.
The current consumer demand for sushi basically requires overfishing, especially in regards to some specific species such as bluefin tuna. While activists fight to get this animal on the endangered species list and end overfishing, the consumer's love for sushi (which was once common only in Japan but has since spread throughout the entire world) persists. Sushi used to be a simple meal sold by Tokyo street vendors, so the local treat didn't call for such a large demand. But the past 30 years have proven sushi is becoming increasingly popular all over the globe, which doesn't bode well for the bluefin tuna in the wild.
According to the documentary Sushi: The Global Catch, directed by Mark S. Hall, tuna caught in the wild will land in restaurants throughout the entire world less than 72 hours after leaving the ocean. The cycle of catching and preparing the fish is endless. New York City is especially demanding, wanting fresh, high-quality fish for 50 dollars per pound, and the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo prepares and sells over 2,000 tons of fish per day.
The supply of bluefin tuna dwindles as the demand increases, which results in unethical fishing practices. Fellow vegetarians and vegans have no trouble avoiding sushi to protect this species, but there are many reasons for everyone to give up this delicacy. The number of wild tuna has decreased by almost 75 percent since the 1970s, a drastic dip that may be enough to kill off this species within the next 10 years. Other animals, like dolphins and seabirds, can be injured or killed by the nets used to catch tuna in mass amounts. And sometimes, tuna can include harmful mercury levels or even turn out to be escolar, a different fish that may be harmful to the human digestive system.
This fight to save wildlife in the world's oceans is not new, but it still needs to gain momentum to make a real change. Documentary filmmaking has proven to be a huge step forward for wildlife activism - the 2015 documentary by famed filmmaker and activist Louie Psihoyos, Racing Extinction, was another recent example of a film that successfully asked audiences to take a broad look at how we treat our environment.
However, activism starts small. Instead of going out with friends to the sushi bar, you can find somewhere that serves tomato sushi - a vegan dish developed by Chef James Corwell. Even if you do go out to a sushi place or seafood restaurant with a non-vegan group, there are plenty of sushi options (many of which can also be made at home) that contain no fish at all.
As with all wildlife causes, it may be hard to promote better eating choices or get people passionate about overfishing. However, anyone can check out Sushi: The Global Catch on their local channels through cable TV to see different ways the world is fighting to save this species, and they can start making a difference at home and at restaurants. The fight to protect these overfished species starts with us.