EU urged to limit tuna fishing as sushi demand threatens stocks

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The Independent Online

Rising demand for sushi is helping to drive tuna stocks to the edge of collapse and could lead to the seasonal closure of fishing grounds.

Urgent intervention and stringent new controls are being called for by ministers from the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to preserve stocks of the fish which is being exploited to meet the consumer boom in healthy eating. The Government will press its demands at a meeting in November of Iccat, the intergovernmental commission on tuna preservation.

The measures come amid mounting evidence from environmental groups such as WWF and Greenpeace that European fishing fleets are illegally catching far more tuna than quotas allow.

Much of the tuna catch used to be exported to Japan but the market in Europe is growing due to the popularity of sushi. It is estimated that Britons eat 600 tons a year, pushing the price of tuna to several thousand pounds for a single fish.

A Defra spokeswoman said: "Scientific evidence shows that there is overfishing and under-reporting occurring in the bluefin tuna fishing industry. Urgent action needs to be taken to address this problem and we support a number of the commission's proposals and we encourage all member states to work together with the commission to address this problem."

The increasing popularity of sushi in the UK is attributed in part to the "modern fusion presentation" techniques that restaurants have adopted. This started in the US where chefs took Japanese minimalism and added Western garnishes such as the colourful arrangement of edible ingredients, the use of differently flavoured sauces, and the mixing of foreign flavours, deviating from the more austere traditional style .

Among the raw fish used is bluefin tuna, which lives in the western and eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Typically about two metres long and weighing 500kg, the bluefin tuna, which has a cigar shaped body, is an important food fish and provides most of the tuna used in sushi. It is a particular delicacy in Japan, where a single giant tuna can cost £60,000.

The EU has recognised that illegal industrial overfishing is a problem in the Mediterranean but says regulation and monitoring is not sufficient to stop it. Earlier this month, the European Parliament's fisheries committee warned that, unless urgent action was taken, stocks of bluefin tuna in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean were on the verge of commercial collapse. The committee heard from traditional tuna trap fisherman in Spain that stocks in their area had fallen by 80 per cent.

Raw facts

* Sushi is made with white, short-grained, Japanese rice mixed with a dressing made of rice vinegar, sugar, salt, kombu, and sake.

* Sushi originated during the Tang Dynasty in China, and the earliest reference in Japan was in 718. Modern sushi has little resemblance to the original. Today's version is a fast food invented by Hanaya Yohei 100 years ago.

* In Japanese, 'sushi' refers to the rice, not the fish or other toppings.

* Types of sushi include nigri (an oblong mound of rice), maki (rolled sushi) and oshizushi (block-shaped pressed sushi)

* A 325kg (715lb) bluefin tuna sold for about £60,000 in Tokyo in 1992. It was divided into 2,400 servings, for which diners were charged £50 each.