Might as well eat ’em: A semi-serious April Fool’s Day ethical debate

Sushi! Image from OpenClipArt.org

Bluefin tuna are some of the most endangered fish in the sea. Prized by the sushi industry for their delicious flavor, populations of bluefin have declined precipitously in recent decades.

They also may be the first species of fish to be driven to extinction by commercial fishing. Normally, when populations of fish get low, it isn’t profitable to fish for them anymore- thus they are not driven to extinction. However, a single bluefin tuna can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars, so it is still profitable to fish for the last one.

Bluefin tuna at a seafood market in Japan. Image from SustainabilityNinja.com

Regional tuna management bodies have failed miserably to protect bluefin, so conservationists were hopeful when Monaco proposed an international ban on bluefin trade at the recent CITES meeting. Not surprisingly, the proposal failed to pass.

I am not optimistic about the future of the bluefin, and I’m not alone. Without CITES protection, these fish may be doomed within the next few decades.

And now we come to the ethical debate. Ordinarily, conservation-minded individuals don’t eat unsustainable fish like bluefin. However, at this point, I’m not convinced that this refusal helps. There is a demand for bluefin with or without us. The animals are just as likely to go extinct (read: highly likely) whether conservationists eat them or not. So, at this point, why shouldn’t we eat them?

We tried our best to guarantee a future for the bluefin, and it would have certainly been inappropriate to eat them while there was still hope. I’m not sure that there is hope anymore. All we are doing by not eating bluefin at this point is denying ourselves some tasty sushi. The animals are doomed with or without our consumption of them.

It’s April Fools Day, so I’m kinda-sorta kidding because I’m frustrated with CITES, but I still think this question could generate some interesting discussion.

For the purposes of this ethical debate, let’s assume that bluefin are going extinct in the next few decades (i.e. the long term future of the bluefin is not what the discussion on this post should be about) . Given that they are going extinct anyway, how are we helping in any way by refusing to eat them? Should we still refuse to eat them on sustainability grounds?

~WhySharksMatter

  1. I think it matters to continue to boycott tuna, even if you expect it to make no difference.

    Doing the right thing even when you don’t expect it to work is important enough in itself. Doing the wrong thing just because it might not make any material difference is still the wrong thing.

    It’s not just a question of ‘feeling good about doing the right thing’. It’s more a question of living by your own rules, and setting an example to others.

    More practically, what happens further down the (fishing) line, when the next species starts going extinct? If you stand up for it then, people will ignore you, because your credibility is shot.

    BTW, your post on dolphin-safe tuna is no longer on the web since you moved platforms. Any chance of resurrecting it, I had a link to it that I would like to maintain!

    • I, too, agree with Tony’s stance on continuing to boycott the bluefin tuna. Doing what is right, ie following and abiding to your morals, is more important in this case. Although boycotting might not make much of a difference, it is important to at least try. The more people who are educated on this topic, the more they may be concerned and be motivated to actually stand up and do something about it.

      If the bluefin tuna are going extinct anyway, it is best to lengthen out the process. The longer they are around, the more that can possibly be done for their protection. Ecologists, scientists, and others who are concerned for their survivability might be able to capture some and collect for breeding. They can also be trapped and kept for further studies, that way when/if they go extinct, we will have the information we want and need about them.

      Plus, good sushi restaurants have plenty of other sushi rolls to choose from 🙂

    • I agree with Annes recent post. As a non-sushi- easter it is easy for me to say that i will completely boycott the product. While i do see the pessimistic side of this debate, the why bother, people are going to continue to fish this extremely profitable fish, i believe it is extremely important to not give up on the bluefin tuna. A bit unrelated, but i remember in class when talking about our carbon footprints, you told us that it is true that in Charleston right now, us taking shorter showers and conserving water does not just send the unused water to places in need around the world, but that does not mean we should not continue trying to reduce our carbon footprint. Assuming the Bluefin Tuna is nearing extinction, there is even more reason to spread the word and attempt to help this animal. There have been cases of animals nearing extinction that have had their populations revived before such as the Giant panda, the bald eagle and many more. Once the Bluefin Tuna population bounces back to a safe number, fishing could be discussed again, but until then we need to think of this fish, and not as sushi, but as a living creature in the ocean who is nearing extinction.

  2. Consuming methyl-mercury isn’t really a joke.

    And Tony hit the nail right on the head. If you advocate for conservation of blue fin tuna and then say, “Screw it, we’ve lost. Let’s just eat us some big ole fish,” the next time you advocate to conserve a species, people won’t take you seriously.

  3. I published a blog today, 10 things to help our Ocean Now. Last weekend I attended a session with Dr. Sylvia Earle and Wyland titled, 10 Years to Save Our Ocean, Science and Art working together. Dr. Sylvia Earle said to tell everyone to “Stop Eating Tuna.” It takes 20 pounds of grass to create a pound of beef and it takes thousands of pounds of grass to create one pound of Tuna. We need not only stop eating tuna, we need to stop shark fishing and consuming all animals in the sea that are endangered. We do not need CITES to create a movement to stop this in our daily diets. We need a campaign and all of us working together to inform people to stop eating endangered species.

  4. We are talking about those fat sashmi steaks right? Not canned tuna which is mostly skipjack. It would be helpful if they labeled Tuna as Bluefin at your local grocery store.

    Bluefin Tuna fishing could be sustainable, at least in US EEZ. If you look at the Atlantic quotas from ICCAT the EU is fishing the shit out of Atlantic Bluefin with 13,500 tons vs a combined U.S. and Canadian annual quota of only 1,800 tons. If you brought EU quotas into line with North American ones (human population numbers are almost identical for the two regions) then the Atlantic fishery at least could be saved.

    http://www.aldenteblog.com/2010/03/tuna-troubles.html

  5. I have to agree with Tony and Sam. By pushing the issue to the side we are not just giving up on this species, but on any other potential endangered species. Yes, it will only be the first species to become extinct due to commercial fishing, but who’s to say it will be the last? If we give up the fight for the bluefin tuna, we give up any hope for future fights. Long live the bluefin!

  6. Basically, this debate balls down to one question? Is it right to do whats wrong even when doing whats wrong doesn’t have a negative consequence? In this case, its wrong to eat the blue fin tuna even though they will eventually die out anyway. Just because their going to be extinct in the next few decades doesn’t mean that we have the right to consume them for our personal pleasure without a care! After all, they have as much right to live as any other species including humans. I’m not saying that we should stop eating blue fin tuna altogether. I just think its wrong to purposely hunt them down in large amounts just because they are on the verge of extinction.

  7. Although this was an April Fools Day post, I think a serious problem was brought up. For all of you who enjoy sushi, I know I do, it may be easy just to grab a box and not really think about how the population of these fish is being affected. According to WhySharksMatter, we are allowing a very special fish to become extinct. Although people have tried to protect the selling and fishing of the bluefin for years, and it is continually failing again and again, we shouldn’t give up. These fish, like any other are important to our world and diversify our oceans. By giving up, going out to sushi bar and ordering a bluefin tuna for the hell of it won’t help you continue to fight for the conservation of this species, as well as the species in the future.

    Don’t give up, keep fighting, and change will happen!

  8. If I was someone who like eating blue fin tuna, this is what I would say: if these fish are going extinct, and there really is nothing we cant do, then we might as well eat them. Why not? If they are generating a lot of money for the fishermen’s, why not allow them to continue catching and selling them, and when they do go extinct, the fishermen’s will loose that resource, but for now they can continue!
    But I don’t like Bluefin Tuna, so I am defending them. I believe that we should stop eatting them, and try to let them just live. And maybe in the future, we will see a population growth. Possibly, if we let the population to build up for a years, then we could go back to eatting them.

  9. WhySharksMatter

    Please take my comments with the utmost respect. Further, I do not personally know you so I have trouble finding a safe point as to where I could have expected your April Fools kidding to have pulled from your true thoughts on the topic.

    With that said, this troubled me.

    “I’m not sure that there is hope anymore.”

    “The animals are just as likely to go extinct (read: highly likely) whether conservationists eat them or not. So, at this point, why shouldn’t we eat them?”

    How can you say you ever had hope in the first place if you will so easily release your firm stance in the face of conflict? Desperately advocating for the protection of the fish to entertaining the idea of eating that same very fish diminishes and idea that you ever truly cared in the first place.

    It’s important to fight for whats right… even if the battles being lost… even if its for a fish.

  10. The fact that Australia is taking some necessary steps by limiting the amount of Bluefin tuna that caught for food aids in saving the species from extinction. However, since Bluefin tuna is in such a high demand in the seafood market, Australia’s limitation could also be hurting the species. For example, when a product becomes limited by law, buyers look for other methods to obtain the product such as illegal fishing. Most buyers will not allow a law to impede on their profit. Also another problem that could arise is the consumer demand will increase more rapidly because although when a product is limited consumer demand increases; if a product is limited too much it then turns into a product that consumers “must have.” This only pressures buyers to capture as many fish as possible. Even though there are negative effects to Australia limiting the amount of Bluefin tuna that are captured, I believe that it is a step in the right direction. There should be other steps that are taken to ensure the only factor causing Bluefin tuna population to decline is too much consumption. The ecosystem in which the Bluefin tuna live should be examined to see if there are any environmental factors that are also causing the decline of the fish, such as storage of food or unclean water conditions. Another step that could be taken in order to save the Bluefin tuna population is farm-raising the tuna.

  11. When readings this blog post I think of the quote by Alexander Hamilton, “Those Who Stand For Nothing, Fall For Anything”. I know this is a bit of an extreme thought process for something like this but it makes me think, if you stand for protecting endangered species why stop helping protect them because their fate seems doomed?

    Sushi has become a very popular food throughout the world, especially in America. This has brought in a great deal of money for fishermen and various companies but Sushi does not have to be made only from bluefin tuna. There are numerous different kinda of sushi so why can’t we prohibit the use of using bluefin tuna and using other types of fish for tuna?

    I think it is ridiculous that CITE did not pass the proposal. CITE should stand up for all endangered animals not just that don’t taste good…

  12. I feel like we should continue to boycott the tuna. Not only should we refuse to eat them on sustainability grounds, but because they are endangered. Two wrongs definitely do not make a right, and it just seem morally wrong to “ride it out, until it ends.” Have some pride for nature. Yes sushi is a very popular food and many eaters would be upset about the decision. However, I’m sure that there are some other replacements that can be used.

  13. The only two types of fish I eat are tuna and salmon; however, when I eat tuna I do not think about which type of tuna I am eating. So, for all I know, I could be eating bluefin tuna without even realizing it. However, I was not aware until now that the bluefin tuna was in danger of extinction. Although there is logic in saying that we might as well eat the bluefin tuna fish if they are going extinct regardless, it does not seem ethical to eat them knowing they are in danger extinction. Assuming that the tuna is going extinct for sure, if we continue to eat them, we are still, in a way, contributing to their ultimate doom. I think that we should refuse to eat them based on sustainability grounds because eating them just does not seem like the ethical choice.

  14. I am utterly amazed that this has not been publicized more. A sushi lover myself, I would have boycotted blue fin tuna a long time ago had I known the extent of what I was doing. Although all signs seem to be pointing to extinction, I agree with what many have said, that boycotting should continue. Many problems in this world have been caused by the human race, and many seem miniscule to us now because we have not seen the full effect of them. It is unfathomable to me that my (future) children will potentially never know what a blue fin tuna tastes like, much less looks like. Have we learned nothing after the extinction of the Dodo, or do we just not care? I really cannot answer that question. As of right now, however, I feel guilty. To answer the questions presented, I suppose you could say that we are not helping by refusing to eat them, but that doesn’t mean that it is the ethical thing to do. I think it is important to refuse to eat these creatures on the means of sustainability grounds, because you never know what could happen. Maybe I’m being naive in hoping for a miracle that could save these creatures, or maybe I’m just hoping that this miracle will save me from the guilt that is sure to follow. Because of it’s commercial popularity, I’m aware that the concept of a legal ban is far-fetched, so I guess I’ll just have to leave it to each his own. I just hope that articles like these can influence people to do the “ethical” thing and at least try to save creatures from their seemingly hopeless fate.

  15. If they are endangered don’t eat them. If they are not endangered then you can eat them…within reason (no dogs). Ethically I feel like we share the planets with these creatures and we should not endanger or extinct a species because we want to eat them. There are plenty more (and better tasting) fish out there, and you will also be saving a species.

  16. Well like some others say, if they are endangered species then do not eat them. There is always hope. In reality, there is always a cause and effect. People still fish for bluefin tuna because there are a lot of people still eating it and sushi. So there forth the companies and fisherman are still making a huge profit. If the conservationists get a lot of people and I mean a lot of people to stop eating sushi and expose it the media things can change. Like I said, there is always a cause and effect. Millions and millions of people refuse the eat sushi and bluefin tuna, so restaurants start to see the decline in their profits drop dramatically. Then it spreads all over big cities and big time restaurants and so forth. So those companies and restaurants will stop buying stocks of bluefin tuna because they can no longer make a profit off of them and then the fisherman companies cannot make no profit either because no one will buy bluefin tuna. Now the conservationists have a better chance of passing some ban on bluefin tuna.

  17. I definitely disagree that we should completely overlook the topic that bluefish tuna are going extinct so they are better off as food. Regardless of how close these fish are to extinction, they are still alive and they are still out there. We can at least still TRY to make a difference, instead of brushing them off and practically considering them “useless.”
    I am angered at the fact CITES did not do anything to help prevent this occurrence, but that doesn’t mean we can’t. Even if everyone has doubts and doesn’t believe that it will make a change, who’s to say that is true if we don’t continue to try?
    I strongly believe in things and when I do, I continue to believe in them even if everyone else has lost hope. So no, I do not think we should just go ahead and eat the tuna, make money, and be satisfied with our own appetite until there are none left for us to eat. If we make it okay now, we’re going to have to make it okay again in the long run when this happens to another species. Are you prepared for that?
    What happens when all the bluefish tuna are gone because we were greedy and didn’t care? No more money will be handed over for these priceless fish and no more stomachs will walk away from a delicious sushi dinner. So do we continue our greedy habits and thrive to please ourselves until nothing is left or do we stop, at least for a while, and let the blue fish tuna thrive and hopefully one day become abundant again and then take baby steps from there? In the end, I think the later would make everyone happy.

  18. Although I have never taken an interest in this topic until after reading this post, I can strongly stand by my comment that if we allow others to decide what we stand for and what we let slide behind our backs then nothing would have ever been accomplished by anyone. If we allow this species to go extinct simply because, at this point in time, we don’t see any changes occurring in the fishing habits, then why even label them as almost being extinct? Why not just say ” It stinks that we are going to lose such a delicacy?” The fact that it is labeled as an issue will raise the awareness and maybe later than sooner but atleast it occurs at some point. Plus those who pride themselves in how much money they bring in with these fish will soon see a dramatic decrease as the fish begin to decline in population even more and therefore they might become a part of the groups trying to raise awareness of the issue at hand. Of course it would be to benefit their own business but atleast it raises the awareness.

  19. I believe that this issue should not be pushed to the side just because the population of the blue fin tuna will be extinct anyway. I believe that we should try to conserve what we have and if the population does continue to rapidly decline (due to nature, not due to commercial fishing) then take actions to try and conserve what is left. Maybe there could be a law that states how much fisherman can catch, that way they will become more valuable and even though fisherman wouldn’t be able to catch as many they could still make a very valuable profit because the demand would be still be extremely high.
    I believe that CITE should advocate all endangered species regardless if they will be extinct in decades to come.

  20. If someone claims to be a conservationist and is genuinely concerned with the Bluefin tuna’s population decline, then it only makes sense for them to refrain from eating this endangered species. It really shouldn’t matter whether your restraint alone will have an impact on the population’s survival or not. It’s about the principle. It’s similar to the act of voting – no one actually thinks that their one vote is going to be the deciding factor in an election, and yet over a hundred million people took the time to cast their ballot in the last presidential election. It is about standing up for what you deem to be “right” – whether that be an endangered species or a political candidate.

  21. How do we know that the bluefish tuna is doomed to die with or without our help?
    Like many of our natural resources on this planet we are abusing our ability to harvest by killing tuna at such an alarming rate. If we keep up at this rate, we will surely run tuna into a state of extinction. I think this directly relates to a current problem we are seeing worldwide – we as a human species are harvesting our natural resources at unnatural rates, threatening our state of order. We are pillaging natures resources without looking at the consequences. If we can learn to manage our rate of consumption we can ensure the survival of many of our resources and specifically this highly demanded food. We need to allow reasonable time for the natural order of life to occur instead of harvesting the animal without giving it enough time to properly and naturally procreate. The tuna industry brings in massive amounts of money, why not use some of its profits to research ways to ensure the lively hood of the Blue Fin tuna. If this fish is in such high demand, we must respect the species. To respect the species, we must learn how to harvest the fish in a more sustainable manner.

  22. In a way, we should not eat the bluefin tuna because there could be a chance of them reviving themselves. That is how we help them. But on the other more logical hand, it makes no sense for us not to eat them. Like you said, they are going to go extinct and society is depriving itself of eating them. With anything that the human society consciously consumes from the environment there will always be an ethical debate and dilemma about it because of what is right and what is wrong. In reality, we can’t really say what is right or wrong. It is up to that particular person. If you want to eat the bluefin tuna and you’re not breaking any laws, then eat the tuna. If you don’t want to, then don’t. It’s as simple as that.

  23. Although yes, they are most likely inevitably going instinct one should still “boycott” by not eating. It is the principal of the matter of standing up for the right thing despite the fact you feel your efforts may be in vain. This same concept applies to numerous examples of being “green” and/or looking out for the environment. Just because one will not see immediate effect or their actions, or may never see the effect, does not mean that not doing it is any more right or vindicated.

  24. The worse thing someone can do is giving up. Even if we know that tuna doesn’t have any chances of surviving, if we really believe in what we do and we want to set an example we should keep up with our decisions till the end. As it is said in other comments, giving up with tuna will also mean giving up with other endangered species.

  25. Eat! It’s kinda like a priest who has, for moral reasons, denied himself a piece… of a woman’s heart that is. So let’s just pretend women were going extinct and his men didn’t march. I say, “Get some!”

  26. I’m appalled! Where is the media on this?? I too am an avid sushi eater and I had no clue, but certainly would not have been ordering them this whole time if I had known! I remember one time when I was younger my family and I were watching a television program after having some meal that had beef in it. The television program had a cow that was being killed on it. I really don’t remember the specifics but I remember looking at my mom and being so upset. She told me that it shouldn’t make me upset because that’s what I just ate for dinner. I responded by saying, well that’s different, it’s already dead when you go to the store. My mothers wise words: if you don’t buy it, that’s one more packaged hamburger meat being left on the shelves and one less person promoting it. I know it’s ridiculous but if every person thought about it that way, then we might actually make a difference.

    • “Where is the media on this?”

      Off the top of my head, I can think of many top media sources that covered the Bluefin tuna issue in the last few years, including the New York Times, CNN, the Washington Post, the LA Times, Time magazine, the Huffington Post, CBS News, NBC News, ABC News, and MSNBC.

      If you haven’t heard of it, it’s not because of a lack of reporting.

  27. I feel that any animal that is being considered almost extinct should not even be able to be used for food. Capturing these endangered species for profit is wrong. There have also been many issues with certain fish being passed off as other fish in order to make more profit.

  28. Being that I am a die hard sushi lover, I am glad thia is a joke because I certainly would not be the person to sacrifice eating bluefin. On a serious matter, of course this would be an issue that should be tackled, but is it really worth it on the terms of fish are a species that are continuously being largely used for commercial consumption? Personally, I do not believe that refusing to eat them will make much of a difference but will only contribute to allowing another fish to become a target in replace of the bluefin.