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?


April 1, 2010 • 7:35 am