My latest for The Daily Beast went up this morning. I had the pleasure to meet James Corwell, a certified master chef and founder of Tomato Sushi, at a recent vegan conference I spoke at. I interviewed him and discussed some of the issues that lead him to seek a plant-based alternative to delicious staples in Japanese cooking:
According to the most recent assessment in 2014, the southern bluefin tuna spawning biomass—what scientists call the amount of fish actually able to reproduce—is at less than 9 percent of the original stock. For every 10 fully-grown bluefins that were in the ocean before we started fishing them, we’ve eaten all but one.
Tuna didn’t face many threats before we came along—they’re apex predators, the lions of the ocean. This explains why their mercury content is so high compared to other species of fish (the fish at the bottom of the food chain have the smallest mercury concentration, the next level up gets the accumulated mercury from all of the fish it eats on the lowest level, the next level up gets all the accumulated mercury from the fish on the lowest two levels, and so on and so on) but also why tuna are so vulnerable to overfishing.With no predation, tuna are able to grow slowly, and they grow big. Southern bluefin tuna typically get to be more than 8 feet long and can weigh up to 600 pounds. In the wild, it takes up to 12 years to reach sexual maturity but only three years to reach the size they are when they’re typically caught, about 30 pounds. This means that most of any given catch of southern bluefin hasn’t gotten a chance to reproduce. It’s a recipe for unsustainable fishing.
While current projections are somewhat optimistic—we’ve reduced our fishing enough that stocks are growing again, albeit slowly—the Pew Environmental Group advises caution. They wrote this past December that, “[W]hile any growth in the population is good news, even a doubling in numbers of a severely depleted species leaves only a slightly less severely depleted species.”
The ocean won’t be able to keep up if demand stays constant and populations continue to rise—China’s burgeoning middle class is already creating a strain, since they consume the most southern bluefin tuna behind Japan and the U.S. According to the IUCN, the population will be down to fewer than 500 mature fish in 100 years if trends continue.
Enter James Corwell, a certified master chef with an alternative he hopes will change the way we eat and think about fish—tomato sushi.
Read the rest of my article here.