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Protecting the Priceless

Created on Friday, 18 January 2013

What do rhinoceroses, elephants, and bluefin tuna have in common? They are all species that are difficult to conserve due to their high price tag. Rhino horns can reach around $30,000 per pound for their claimed medicinal benefits and unlikely ability to cure cancer. In Nigeria, elephant tusks can sell for about $200 per pound as raw materials for carved items like ivory bangles, combs, and chopsticks. Due to their high demand, poaching rates of these endangered animals have significantly increased in recent years.

This year, a single bluefin tuna fetched a record price of $ 1.76 million (around $3,600 per pound) on the auction floor in Tsukiji fish market, Japan. Kiyoshi Kimura, owner of a sushi restaurant chain in Japan and the winning bidder, was not just buying a fish with this 488-pound Bluefin – he was also buying prestige.

Historically, tuna was considered a low-class food and low-grade sushi. Its red meat was quick to spoil and develop a strong odor. Over the years, sushi chefs developed techniques to mellow the bloody taste of tuna by covering it with soy sauce or burying it for days prior to serving. With the development of longline fishing techniques post World War II and the cheap access to imported bluefin tuna from the U.S. in the 60s and 70s, the demand for tuna began to rise. Today, Pacific bluefin tuna populations have dropped by 96.4% from their unfished levels, yet unlike poaching rhino horns or elephant tusks, fishing for bluefin tuna is still legal.

Most of us do not have the ability to go out and stop people from poaching or fishing unsustainably, so what can we do? We can control what we buy. We can commit to be conscious consumers by investigating products before purchasing. Some key actions we can take are:

  • Not buying any exotic medicines that sound too good to be true and make claims that are not supported by science
  • Questioning any animal based products and seeking information on their raw materials
  • Using your Seafood Watch guide and asking about the source of your tuna or any seafood you are eating

Hopefully, by purchasing responsibly we are setting good examples for our family and friends. Being responsible isn’t always convenient, but we owe it to ourselves and to the next generation of every species on earth to do our due diligence and be mindful of our impacts.

Bluefin Medium