This series of posts represents some of the excellent documentaries I screened as part of the Vancouver International Film Festival. Today’s Pick- Sushi: The Global Catch directed by Mark Hall.
Not long ago at the famous Tsukiji fish auction market in Tokyo, Japan, a single bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) specimen sold for over $200,000 USD -a startling indication of the state of the species. The crazier the price, the rarer the find, and bluefin are becoming an infrequent find indeed. The Japanese have been celebrating their culture of sushi for hundreds of years; high-quality fish is respected and carefully prepared by sushi-masters that spend several years in training. However, in recent years many cultures across the globe have caught on to the wonders of sushi and the everso prized delacacy that is the bluefin tuna. This is of course extremely bad news for this formidable predator that was once a major player in the ecology of the northeast Atlantic ocean and the Mediterranean sea. With the world’s appetite for tuna increasing at near-exponential speed, entire marine food-chains are being restructured from the top down (bluefin populations estimated to be 75% lower in 2011 compared to 20051).
This compelling documentary takes us on the journey of Japan’s cuisine, sushi’s inception into brand new markets across the world and its rapid inclusion as a staple in the diet of people from Poland to America to China. It really hit home for me on a personal level, as someone who was introduced to sushi (in my highly Japanese-influenced city of Vancouver, BC) during University. I remember thinking something along the lines of ‘this is fantastic! Sushi – where have you been all my life?’ Evidently I was not alone - it has become such a hot global comoddity that you don’t even have to be in a specialized restaurant to enjoy it anymore. Sushi poppers (aka canned sushi bites available from vending machines) and sport stadiums are just a few of the astonishing places where sushi can now be readily consumed (welcome to North American overindulgence Mr. Tuna!).
Although the subject matter of this documentary is largely depressing and without a clear ‘right answer’ when it comes to addressing the issue of bluefin demise, the film is not all doom and gloom. Some interesting viewpoints and ideas are offered for sustainability of the sushi industry – including more appropriate fishing techniques, ocean-friendly menu options and the development of a fish-farming idustry for tuna. These, coupled with stunning images of formally prepared sushi and jarring images of Tsukiji make for an extremely well-informed and visually pleasing film. It will certainly make me think twice the next time I’m making choices about indulging in any kind of seafood.
1Mackenzie, B.R., Mosegaard, H. and Rosenberg, A.A. 2009. Impending collapse of bluefin tuna in the northeastAtlantic and Mediterranean. Conservation Letters 2: 25-34.