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Jan 26, 2011 06:45 AM

Is it ethical to eat Bluefin Tuna?

On the Boston board there was discussion of whether Atlantic Bluefin should be eaten.

The Monterrey aquarium says no:

Personally I love to fish, and I love to eat bluefin tuna, though I've never caught one.

But I feel, like the cod fishery, that the bluefin fishery is on the verge of total collapse.

I just spent 20 min. wading through piles of ICAAT data which in the end is gobbledy gook.

Bottom line: as recently as the early 1990s is was not uncommon to catch Alantic Bluefin in excess of 1,200 pounds. Noone catches fish bigger than 400 pounds with any frequency these days. That has to be an indication of the health of the fishery.

I really feel it is no longer acceptable to catch or eat bluefin tuna anywhere in the world.

Heck, it's not just enethical, it is unsustainable. I personally don't want Bluefin Tuna to go the way of the atlantic cod fishery, or the west coast sardine/anchovy fishery.

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  1. Thanks so much for creating this thread! I tried to leave a reply on the New Japanese Fish Market discussion but was deleted.

    I agree with you and wish more people would ask themselves if the pleasure of eating blue fin (or any other endangered species) is really worth seeing that species become extinct. And why don't more markets and restaurants take the lead in educating their customers?

    I recommend "Four Fish: the Future of the Last Wild Food" by Paul Greenberg, he makes some interesting points about the shortcomings of fish farming.

    And then there's panga, which I havn't seen here but which is very popular in France because it's cheap, meaty and mild tasting: comes from farms in the ultra polluted water of the Mekong River, so farming is not always the solution.

    1 Reply
    1. re: cassis

      I agree there are no easy answers. It requires thoughtful decisions every step of the way.

      MANY of the farmed species are fed fishmeal which is made from ocean herring and other species. Those fisheries, particularly herring, are themselves in trouble. The herring catch near Boston has been severely cut back in recent years due to overfishing.

      I myself am a total omnivore, and love meat, fish, etc. But it does raise the question of how and whether we can feed large portions of animal protein to a growing and more affluent world population.

      Bottom line is that American style, 10 ounce portion of any animal protein is not particularly healthy for you to begin with. To quote Michael Pollan: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

      Not only is that approach good for us, it's good for the planet, and probably the Bluefin tuna population as well.

    2. The bluefin tuna isn't on governmental endangered lists. If memory serves, the issue was brought up at an international conference and attempts were made to classify it has a class/type I species, which would put heavy restrictions on it, but that was shot down by something like a 2:1 no vote. If it's not endangered and isn't illegal, then I'd say it's ethical.

      20 Replies
      1. re: ediblover

        You really need to get up to speed on your information.

        In the US the Bluefin catch is HIGHLY regulated and restricted, but 200 miles off shore anyone can catch anything they want.

        The reason ICAAT didn't drastically cut quotas this year is because the mostly European countries and Japan voted it down despite STRONG scientific evidence that the stocks are in serious danger.

        The scientific community was essentially screaming that there is a problem, particularly in the Mediteranean (where a big fish these days is a 100 pounder, probably not even big enough to reproduce at all).

        The reason it is not on endangered list has nothing to do with number of fish in the wild, and everything to do with politics and vested interests.

        1. re: StriperGuy

          This is the official U.S. site:

          I put in "tuna" and I get a roach. So, I'm going to ask you to find the bluefin tuna on the official listing.

          As for "strong" scientific evidence, that's a running joke these days. Earlier this month there was "strong" scientific support for ESP. The evidence? A study, ran by a Cornell professor, had a 100 people pick 1 of 2 curtains (on a PC monitor), with 1 of them having the potential (predict the future!) of having a(n) picture/object appear. This "strong" evidence was that 53% of the time the people guessed the right one, when the picture was sex related.

          I seriously doubt that any (actual) strong evidence can be found on the bluefin tuna, because it's just impossible to study/track fish and all the variables in the oceans. You can speculate with numbers and political motivations, but those don't add up to being actual, reasonable evidence.

          1. re: ediblover

            Just adding a creature to the endangered list is a political issue.

            Just because some people do bad science, does not mean ALL science is shoddy. In fact quite the contrary.

            Bottom line, Bluefin that are landed here in New England are much smaller then they were 15 years ago.

            Here are numerous articles discussing the problem.





            1. re: StriperGuy

              In other words, neither the International system or the U.S. government has it as an endangered species.

              1. re: ediblover

                Why is the U.S. endangered species classification your arbiter for whether it is ethical or not? I ask this in all seriousness.

                1. re: ediblover

                  i don't believe the U.S. Govt. has Rhino as an endangered species as well. Cut through the politics here - and there are a lot - even if it isn't classified as such, can we really not say the Bluefin is in trouble?

                2. re: StriperGuy

                  Of all your links not one single peer reviewed journal....cmon guy you can do better than the NY Times as a source...might as well post the National Enquirer up there also.

                3. re: ediblover

                  Ediblover: Your assertion that it is "impossible" to study and track fish in the ocean is just wrong, and suggests that you have no scientific training. Marine biologists must use statistical methods — obviously they cannot count and track individual fish — but statistical methods are nevertheless scientifically sound, not mere "speculation."

                  Here is a helpful summary of the status of the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna as understood by marine biologists:


                4. re: StriperGuy

                  I am skeptical of the "U.S. Tuna is fine" argument.. does a tuna caught in the 200 mile U.S. limit never exit those waters? Does it spawn in those waters? Tuna are wide ranging predators, travelling hundreds or thousands of miles.

                  Its a sad joke that most people with knowledge of the issue call ICCAT "International Commission to Catch All Tuna" - its easy in the U.N. to round up a few countries with an eye to economic self interest to vote for no restrictions.. read a book on economics - its called the Peril of the Commons..

                  But lets be blunt and lead by example.. almost every popular fish - Atlantic Cod, Sword, has gone through these cycles - abundance, then slow decline, with vested interests crying "Don't manage us.. we are just in a bit of a downturn".... eventually the fishery collapses, and people walk away skulking. If you eat bluefin, its like eating a panda.. and when its gone, look in the mirror and realize you played a part in it..

                  The Japanese are busy harpooning whales - do you really thing they are ready to cut back on their tuna consumption? They eat 90% of the world's catch today.. if there were one last tuna left, rich Tokyo businessmen would be lining up to filet it.

                  If truly our local stock is viable, leave it alone.. it might soon be the last viable stock left to repopulate the world..

                  1. re: grant.cook

                    I'm fairly sure that if I went through the list of all the protected creatures that there will always be some nations with a self-interest. But, the bluefin proposal was clobbered. Japan has their own agenda, sure, but what about the other dozens of nations that voted "no" or abstained? It's getting into the area of a non-existent conspiracy.

                    I had less than 10 servings of tuna last year, no sushi, so I doubt any were bluefin. I don't have an interest here. I'm not convinced that they should be a high priority.

                    1. re: ediblover

                      That's a nice tight philosophy... Pretty much every really bad thing that has occurred on this land of ours has happened because the middle class said "Its really not my problem.."

                      I'll give you a phrase you can use when the bluefin is extinct in a couple of decades -
                      "Never Again.."

                      And don't be naive - Japan almost got a few nations, with creative bribes, to overturn the whaling ban a few years back.

                      1. re: grant.cook

                        The middle class? I think the overwhelming majority of Americans have the "as long as it doesn't affect my lifestyle it's not a problem" mentality.

                    2. re: grant.cook

                      The misinformation on these boards is incredible. Did you know that the US harvests only 2% of the blue fin tuna worldwide? Look it up! So by not eating blue fin in the US you are doing nothing to stop the percieved "demise" of the giant bluefin. All you will be doing by not eating domestic blue fin is hurting the US fisherman who is the most highly regulated in the world. If the US is not allowd to catch its ICCAT quota it will be turned over to the purse seiners in the Med who are doing all the damage in the first place or worse...Japan.

                      1. re: LongLiner61

                        As a lifelong recreational fisherman and resident of a community that is home to a commercial fishing fleet, I emphasize with your position from an economic perspective. The issue at hand, however, is framed as an ethical discussion. From that point of view, your argument is fundamentally: one should not refrain from committing a wrong act because if one does refrain another actor may perform the wrong. That simply is not supported; it is roughly similar to the old Mom favorite, "If everyone was jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge . . . ."

                        1. re: MGZ

                          My post was meant to suggest the readers here to do their homework before depriving themselves of a food they enjoy. Nothing more,nothing less.

                          If you are eating domestically caught troll, harpoon or rod and reel BFT you are ethically sound in your decision. The Western Atlantic bluefin tuna(east coast of US and Canada) is not being overfished. The Eastern Bluefin Tuna(Europe and Med) is being purse seined to dangerously low numbers. So before a massive knee jerk reaction by a misinformed public hurts artisinal fisherman who abide by and are in favor of strictly regulating the Blue Fin fishery worldwide....INFORM yourselves.

                          1. re: LongLiner61

                            Good point Longliner-Thanks for the informed posts.

                            1. re: LongLiner61

                              Sorry, as longtime recreational fisherman myself, to pretend that there are NO issues in Bluefin catch in the USA Atlantic is laughable. Where are the 1500 pounders of my youth? Heck, where are the 1000 pounders?

                              To pretend that the Western Atlantic Bluefin is in totally fine shape is to deny the truth. When a BIG fish is 500 pounds, there are issues even in the local catch. I enjoy it myself from time to time, but have an appreciation for the fact that my grandchildren may never taste bluefin tuna.

                              1. re: StriperGuy

                                There are 1,000 pounders in PEI waters-this past season was phenomenal.


                                1. re: Sam Salmon

                                  A few 1000 pounders does not counter the fact that once they were VERY COMMON and now almost unheard of. Sure a few still exisit but MANY fewer.

                    3. re: ediblover

                      Ediblover, you really need to get your information from different sources when deciding the real status of any specie. Science and the endangered list are practically non-related, the same relation there is between politics and science.

                    4. IMO, the only way that this becomes an ethical dilemma is if there is a school of thought that holds that the bluefin is on its way to extinction no matter what, so therefore, you will no matter what you do be among the last to taste it.

                      Personally, I think it is unethical, but the piece of seared bluefin toro I had over a year ago is still the best thing I've ever eaten in my life. At the very least, it's a special occasion food, and it's price makes it so.

                      I think the best thing we can do is ask questions about the tuna we order - what kind it is, where it's sourced from, etc., and not just thoughtlessly order it all the time every time we go out for sushi.

                      I have to say that I read about young children developing a taste for raw tuna here and that kind of unexamined encouragement kind of bothers me.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Raids

                        not from Boston, but i own a seafood market in Dallas Texas and honestly, no you shouldn't eat bluefin. its not a matter of "if" but a matter of "when" we overfish it to extinction.

                        that said, if you can find upscale restaurants that serve farm raised blue fin, check it out. the future of the species is farm raising it. which is tough. tuna that is ready to eat can be 2 tons and travel 60mph for hours upon end...not exactly ideal for aquaculture!

                        1. re: JonFromTJs

                          Thank you.

                          Though, even the farm raised does not really resolve all of the problems.

                          1. re: StriperGuy

                            Do they even sell farm raised here in the U.S.?
                            You do not need a PHD or statistics to tell you that the bluefin stocks are in danger.
                            Even Wiki will tell you-International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has it listed and "critically endangered" the highest risk category.
                            As long as the Japanese demand for tuna is there, they will be over fished.
                            As usual, the world will wait until there are only a few hundred left to do something about it. And even then, it wont be easy enforcing the moratorium.

                            Id like to know what percentage of bluefin is consumed in the US, the EU, Japan, China etc......

                            Some articles suggest that 80% of the catch is consumed in Japan.

                      2. I would not eat it under any circumstances, but I am a lifelong fisherperson and am familiar with the state of the species as far as the U.S. Atlantic coast is concerned, conservation is essential.

                        It's entirely likely the bluefin that is being served in the sushi restaurant came from another fishery but until the U.S. stock gets healthy again I'd rather avoid it.

                        1 Reply
                        1. Another question is whether when you purchase bluefin you are really getting bluefin, there have been lots of cases in recent years of restaurants passing off a cheaper species as the more expensive species, and bluefin is very expensive. I certainly could not tell the difference between bluefin and yellowfin (especially since I have never eaten bluefin).

                          I used to fish for tuna every year off the Outer Banks (out of Oregon Inlet) and have eaten a lot of fresh tuna, when you come down to it, it's a bloody piece of fish, nobody here could distinguish one from the other.

                          So save yourself some money and do the ocean a favor and order the yellowfin instead.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: redfish62

                            When I was a kid EVERY sushi place in NYC (I now live in Boston) had Bluefin. It was cheap.

                            Good Yellowfin is pretty close. Most folks wouldn't know the difference.

                            Though real Toro is pretty noteworthy.

                            1. re: redfish62

                              TBH, I didn't order it. It was part of a rather pricey omakasse-style dinner I had. But it was hands down one of the best things I have ever eaten. You *can* tell the difference.

                              Having said that, I doubt I would order it. And it is not as though we should not be concerned with the yellowfin tuna stock either, right? Really we should try to order things *besides* tuna. There are other fish that make for great sushi!