Protest Planned at Sushi Den for Serving Endangered Tuna Type

Activitists press highly acclaimed Denver restaurant to stop serving bluefin tuna

Sushi lovers in Japan and elsewhere are driving the bluefin tuna to extinction.

I love sushi, but I don’t want to eat any sea critter that is endangered, so I’m grateful when someone reminds me about fish species to avoid —  like bluefin tuna. It is relatively expensive, so that it’s never really been on my list, but even if I had a big sushi budget, it would now be off. Thanks to the steady efforts of  environmental groups, I hope that it soon will be off a lot more people’s lists.  There are, as the saying goes, other fish in the sea.

Plants & Animals Denver is doing its part. The group is planning a three-hour protest at Sushi Den against what it calls “reckless eating” one week from tonight (December 10), beginning at 5:00 p.m. They’ll have signs and seafood guides with consumer information on which seafoods are the best  and worst choices for sustainability. The not-for-profit’s goal is to make Denver a bluefin-free city.  

What Is Bluefin Tuna — and Why Is It So Threatened?

The fatty belly meat of bluefin, which appears on menus as toro or hon maguro, is considered to be among the most delectable sushi options. It is also one of the most expensive. Two pieces of toro on Sushi Den’s sushi menu are $12. The next most expensive fish are bincho (albacore tuna) and anago (sea eel), with all other sushi offers in the $5-$6 range.

“This tastiness,” Plants & Animals points out, “may be the species’ downfall. Decades of overfishing, toothless regulatory quotas, black markets, and a seemingly insatiable Japanese appetite for toro have brought bluefin to the brink.” The bluefin population is estimated to be just 15 percent of its pre-1960 level, and the World Wildlife Fund has it on its”10 to Watch” list of threatened species for 2010.

“At $100,000 per fish, you can understand why fishing fleets have gone to such lengths to catch and ranch these ocean titans,” says Dylon Smith of Plants & Animals Denver, a grassroots nonprofit that advocates plant-based eating as a solution to many other environmental and social problems.

The Word from Seafood Watch

Bluefin is on Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch’s “Avoid” list, and here’s what they say:

“All populations of bluefin tuna are being caught faster than they can reproduce. Bluefin is being further depleted by ranching operations that collect small bluefin and raise them to full size to sell primarily to the sushi market…Bluefin tuna is prized by sushi chefs and the high demand for this fish has taken its toll in the Atlantic, Pacific and Southern Oceans. It’s slow to mature and many fisheries are catching young bluefin tuna that haven’t had a chance to reproduce.

“Bluefin tuna is caught in the Pacific, Atlantic, Southern Oceans and Mediterranean. It’s highly migratory and frequently crosses international boundaries during its yearly migration. Numerous nations, including the U.S. and Japan, participate in international management bodies that work to maintain global tuna populations. Unfortunately, these programs are proving ineffective.

“Bluefin is caught with a variety of gear, including purse seines and longlines. Longlines are most common and result in large bycatch, including threatened or endangered species such as sea turtles, sharks and seabirds. Since there are no international laws to reduce bycatch, these longline fleets are contributing heavily to the long-term decline of some of these species.

Bluefin tuna ranching, where small bluefin tuna are brought from the wild and fattened in open net pens, is increasingly common. However, the depleted state of all bluefin populations combined with the large quantities of fish that must be used to feed these tuna is a serious conservation concern.”
The Fight to Save the Bluefin Tuna

Environmentalists and others concerned with ocean health and sustainable fisheries have long been worried about the bluefin. “Conservation” is sometimes a misnomer, putting an allowable annual catch limit that merely slows down, but doesn’t halt, a species extinction. Japanese authorities and sushi-holic have never cared much that they are depleting oceans of some of the seafood they like the most — and anything else they scoop up while fishing. Eigh

Eighty percent of the bluefin catch from the Mediterranean goes to Japan, and they’re consuming a lot of the catch from the Atlantic as well. The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) set the total allowable catch for 2009 at 22,000 tons, even though its own scientists advised a total allowable catch ranging from 8,500 to 15,000 and also a closure of the fishery for the months of May, June and July, and the World Wildlife Federation has called for a total moratorium at least to allow the bluefin population to recover. After meeting in Paris in late November, ICCAT announced that it has “adopted new management measures for bigeye and bluefin tunas and North Atlantic swordfish and for the conservation of sharks and sea turtles that are taken as by catch. New improved measures for monitoring, surveillance and control were also adopted. ICCAT is also taking a leading role internationally in collecting data on by caught species and in conducting research essential to ensure the long-term sustainability of all species caught in tuna fisheries.”

The WWF had said it was “extremely disappointed” with ICCAT’s 2009 decision and is probably in a good position to judge whether ICCAT’s 2010 statement will help preserve the bluefin. WWF said that it would “pursue other means to save the fishery, including consumer boycotts and attempting to get Bluefin tuna listed under CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.” And that’s where Plants & Animals Denver and other local organizations elsewhere come in.
 Bluefin in Boulder
Boulder is so eco-conscious, so green, so caring that I wondered whether bluefin is served the competitive cluster of downtown sushi restaurants here. I checked the online menus. These menus could, of course, change or be out of date now, and it is also possible thatbluefin is available as a special at restaurants that do not serve it all the time. JapangoKasa Grill & Sushi Bar and Sushi Tora do not appear to offer bluefin. The only tuna on their menus is “Maguro Bincho” or simply “Maguro” (albacore). Hapa Sushi lists “Blue Fin Toro — Fatty Tuna (available seasonally)”, and Sushi Zanmai  also serves “fatty tuna” but doesn’t bother calling it toro. If I am understanding the online menus correctly, gold stars go to Japango, Kasa and Sushi Tora, and tsk-tsk to Hapa and Sushi Zanmai. Those two better clean up their bluefin act before they too get demonstrated against.

7 thoughts on “Protest Planned at Sushi Den for Serving Endangered Tuna Type”

    1. The sources I’ve found are unclear. From the source I found, it seemed to me that bluefin is the species that fattens its belly best — kind of like Wagyu and Black Angus cattle breeds ability to add fat in the most desirable places from a culinary standpoint. Hopefully, others with real experise will clarify. It IS clear, however, that bluefin are on their way to being loved to extinction.

  1. Thanks Plants and Animals for staging this event, and thank Culinary Colorado for covering it! Here’s hoping Denver is bluefin-free soon.

  2. Geez you people are dumb. If your going to take the time to protest something at least know what your talking about. Toro doens’t mean bluefin, it means fatty tuna. Bluefin toro is otoro.

    1. Kenny – “You people” is just me — or, more grammatically, “You people” is just I. I may be dumb, but you’re mistaken. I’m a decent researcher, and I also know the difference between “you’re” and “your.”

      According to WiseGeek , “In Japan, a blue fin tuna is graded by the quality of the cuts of meat which can be obtained from it, particularly the prized toro, the fatty belly of the tuna…While sushi uses many different types of tuna including yellow fin and big eye, true toro is only taken from blue fin tuna. Toro comes from the underbelly of the tuna, and is itself divided into grades which are distinguished based on the marbling of the meat, much like in grading beef. The most valuable toro, otoro, is from the underside of the fish close to the head. Chutoro, a lesser grade, comes from the belly in the middle and back of the fish, and is less marbled than otoro.”

      According to Sustainable Sushi, “While toro can be cut from any large tuna, the quintessential toro experience is associated with the majestic bluefin tuna, known as honmaguro or kuromaguro, the largest and most highly prized member of the tuna family.”

      According to Catalina Offshore Products, “One of the most prized types of sushi in the world is the belly loin of the fatty blue fin tuna, known as toro.”

      According to Sushi FAQ, “Tuna served in restaurants is generally one of two different species, the bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus), traditionally known as ‘maguro,’ which is usually fairly lean, and the yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares), known as ‘ahi’ (ah-hee), which is a fattier species. Yellowfin tuna may also be labeled ‘maguro’ but more often than not, if you see maguro it will be bluefin tuna. Tunasushi is further broken up into subtypes, based on the fat content….Tuna served in restaurants is generally one of two different species, the bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus), traditionally known as ‘maguro,’ which is usually fairly lean, and the yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares), known as ‘ahi’ (ah-hee), which is a fattier species. Yellowfin tuna may also be labeled ‘maguro’ but more often than not, if you see maguro it will be bluefin tuna. Tunasushi is further broken up into subtypes, based on the fat content.”

  3. Thanks for “research” backing me up here. Toro isn’t necessarily bluefin, and “youz guyz” are protesting toro. It looks quite incompetent.

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