The global sushi craze that has erupted over the past couple of decades has had a big impact on our seas, not just because of the increase in seafood consumption but as sushi eateries generally rely on a handful of fish species - in particular, tuna and salmon - that are often threatened or farmed in harmful ways. While Japan's high demand for prized bluefin tuna is a well-known part of the species' looming demise, the growth of an entire fishing and processing industry has grown to meet the demand of sushi lovers from Poland to Paraguay. This May, the Slow Fish event in Genoa, Italy, challenged us to question of if can we continue to eat this popular dish sustainably.
The Sushi Island was organized and run by students from the University of Gastronomic Sciences Slow Food Convivium during the four-day event, together with Japanese chefs Kiyoshi Hayamizu and Katzoumi Ota (invited to the fair with the support of Kai knives, partner company in the project). Regular one-hour workshops were held involving a guided tour of the Slow Fish market, chef demonstration and tasting aiming to teach visitors how to select examples of Mediterranean alternatives to the most commonly used fish that have similar sensory qualities but much better green credentials.
"Since sushi has gone global it has been completely devalued," said student and member Stefano Ferrante. "We don't justify the chef's skills, the fisher's hard work or the flavor and freshness of the fish itself. At Slow Fish, we want to show that we don't need to stop eating sushi if we can learn to do it well. We need to give it back its value, eat less, and stop using endangered fish."
Atlantic bonito was one fish used as a substitute for bluefin tuna, due to its deep red flesh and rich flavor, while horse mackerel, pompano and trout were used in place of salmon. "Atlantic bonito is not so different to bluefin in terms of preparation. I always prefer to use fish that are not endangered and my clients always love it," said Chef Katzoumi Ota.
The workshop also emphasized how there is no answer applicable worldwide - in fact, a large part of the reason for today's drastic situation is because we've allowed seafood trends to become globally uniform. We need to choose local fish based on factors such as their size, seasonality, how they are caught, as well as their abundance.
It's a more complex answer, but an important message and responsible fishmongers and chefs can always help. Several guides to sustainable sushi choices have been produced, predominately in North America, and are listed below. For other regions of the world, more general sustainable seafood guides will get you started. Click here for a list of guides to sustainable fish.
A documentary, Sushi the Global Catch - shot in five nations to explore the tradition, growth and future of sushi - had its world premiere at the Seattle Film Festival on June 8.
Sustainable Sushi (International)
Monterary Bay Aquarium Sushi Guide
Environmental Defense Fund pocket sushi guide
Blue Ocean Institute