Top French chefs take bluefin tuna off the menu

Top French chefs this week pledged to keep bluefin tuna and other threatened fish species off the menu, whatever the cost.

With half of the fish eaten in Europe dished up in restaurants, it was high time for the food-loving nation's leading chefs to take a stand, said one of the country's greatest chefs, Olivier Roellinger.

Roellinger, celebrated for his fish and seaweed fare in western Brittany, took bluefin tuna - aka red tuna - off the menu five years ago. "We have a responsibility towards all those who are in charge of feeding others, cooks but also mothers and even fathers, and must show them the way," he told AFP.

"They must be made aware that the sea, this natural larder, is in danger," added Roellinger, who a year ago threw in the coveted three-star rating awarded him by the Michelin Guide, the French food bible, on grounds of fatigue.

Environmentalists say bluefin tuna faces the threat of extinction because of overfishing and want its trade banned by CITES, the UN body that rules on wildlife trade.

In a move to protect the species, an international body meeting in Brazil last week agreed to cut the allowable bluefin tuna catch in the Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean by 40 percent next year compared to 2009.

Scientific experts reckon the fish we eat will have disappeared from the oceans by 2050, said the luxury hotel network Relais et Chateaux this week.

Roellinger, who has just become its deputy president, has won an agreement from 60 percent of its members - 475 European, Japanese and US chefs in 57 countries, including the Inn at Little Washington and Restaurant Gary Danko in San Francisco - to stop dishing up bluefin tuna.

"We will release the names of all those and their establishments who don't agree in order to make sure that they assume their responsibilities," Roellinger added.

Another Paris eatery well-known for the quality of its fish, Auguste, no longer serves bluefin, fresh codfish or even white tuna, which is also known as germon.

"We chefs have played our part in this catastrophe," chef Gael Orieux told AFP. "People tend to buy fish at the market that they've had at a restaurant. So my logic is to propose other fish, that are less under threat, in order to influence consumers in their choices."

Three-star Michelin chef Gerald Passedat, one of only 26 in the top league in France, took bluefin off his menu in Marseille two years ago though he cooks with 65 to 70 species of fish a year.

"I like to work with lesser-known fish," he said "for the different tastes but also to help biodiversity."

Likewise Joel Robuchon and Alain Ducasse - arguably among the handful of the world's very top chefs with respectively 18 and 14 Michelin stars for their various restaurants across the globe - too have scrapped red tuna in their inns.

Robuchon took it off the menu a year ago while Ducasse scrubbed it off a couple of years ago.

But with sushi bars flourishing and Japan by far the world's largest consumer of red tuna, the chefs are wary of fighting a losing battle.

"We have to make people conscious individually," said Orieux. "During the 'mad cow' crisis, people completely stopped eating calf sweetbreads and bone marrow and then rediscovered this with pleasure a few years later.

"This is what we need to do to save fish."

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