Jacques Cousteau, the famed explorer, conservationist and oceanographer, said: “We must plant the sea and herd its animals using the sea as farmers instead of hunters. This is what civilisation is all about – farming replacing hunting.”
For too long we have taken our planet’s rich natural resources for granted. Now we are finding many of these resources have been depleted beyond repair.
The problem posed by over-fishing has been framed by Jiro Ono, widely considered to be the world’s greatest sushi master. The owner of a three Michelin star-rated restaurant in Tokyo, has said: “The future is so bad. Even now I can’t get the ingredients that I really want. I have a negative view of the future. It is getting harder to find fish of a decent quality.”
The plight of the bluefin tuna
90 percent of the world’s fisheries have been deemed either maxed out or overexploited. No better is this overexploitation of natural resources illustrated than by the plight of the bluefin tuna.
Bluefin tuna stocks all over the world are on the verge of collapse. Estimations from the World Wildlife Federation suggest that, if current fishing habits remain unchecked, the Northern bluefin could be wiped out within three years. The prognosis for the Southern bluefin is not much better. That leaves the slightly less besieged Pacific bluefin, which fishermen will undoubtedly train their sights on.
Such is the rarity of the bluefin tuna that a new record was recently set, with a single 500-pound tuna fetching $1.8million in a Tokyo auction.
Is fish farming the answer?
Great strides have already made in fish farming, with agriculture currently accounting for almost as much fish as we catch at sea. Certain species of fish are now almost exclusively farmed. Salmon is a prime example, with 70 percent of the fish sold in supermarkets and sushi delivery restaurants in London and beyond, now farmed.
Such has been the success of salmon farmed predominantly in Britain, Norway, Canada and the United States, that salmon is now ubiquitous. As such, the price has dropped, and the fish no longer retains its ‘delicacy’ status.
Can’t we just farm tuna?
The economic and conservational arguments for fish farming are undeniably strong, but unfortunately for the bluefin tuna, the solution is not quite so simple.
So far, efforts to conserve the dwindling bluefin population have failed. Just last year, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas set an annual catch quota of 22,500 tons. Despite this limit, 60,000 tons of Northern bluefin were actually caught.
Many attempts have been made to farm tuna, but to date they have been largely unsuccessful. Farming bluefin tuna from eggs through to maturity is technically very difficult given current technology.
Juvenile tuna feed on fish larvae and microscopic sea creatures, but consume fish as they grow older. Developing a feed that bluefins will consume has been extremely problematic, but just this year a Japanese company successfully developed a feed tuna will consume. Not it remains to be seen whether this process can be scaled up.
If attempts to farm tuna are unsuccessful and current fishing activity is not dramatically reduced, sushi takeaways and delivery restaurants will lose arguably their most desirable ingredient, and we will all be the poorer for it.