Sayonara Sushi

By Esther Garcés, Biology researcher at ICM
Images by Solvin Zankl and Brian Skerry


Each ecosystem has its emblematic animal. The African lion, the brown bison and the brown bear, the Asian elephants, the polar bear, and the bluefin tuna … Yes, yes, the bluefin tuna. If the tuna lived in the land, its size, speed, and migrations would guarantee it the category of legend and the tourists would come en masse to photograph it in the natural parks. But since he lives in the sea, his majesty is unknown to us.

Bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) is one of the most extraordinary fishes in the world’s oceans. It can reach almost four meters in length, a weight of 680 kilos and can live up to 30 years. When swimming is like a torpedo, prepared for great speed and power. Their loins are like warships covered by a line of small yellow dorsal fins. Its flanks seem made of chrome and steel with some electric blue lines.

The bluefin tuna has a characteristic that is at the same time its downfall: its belly, with many veins of fat, is considered one of the best in the world to prepare sushi. In fact, the tuna has always been a valued food and the record was brought by a bluefin tuna of about two hundred kilos that reached a million and a billion euros in the Japanese market, that is, just over six thousand euros per kilo.

Another irony and tragedy of Mediterranean bluefin tuna is the fact that its reproduction makes it fully accessible to fishing fleets. In spring and summer, when the water temperature rises, the schools of bluefin tuna rise to the surface to lay the eggs. While sailing the sea, swimming sideways, each female expels tens of millions of eggs and the males emit clouds of sperm. It is clear, show the silvery sides on the surface, the rough sea and the spots of eggs and sperm make them visible from kilometers away from detector planes. Lethal force.

The overfishing of bluefin tuna is a symbol of the serious problems of fisheries today: the huge increase in fishing capacity, the negligence in the management of fisheries, the breach of laws and the indifference of consumers in respect of to the future of the fish we consume. Although there are exceptions, and countries where the management of tuna fisheries is excellent, the current opinion of tuna stocks is that in most cases there are too many boats for so few fish.

In the past, millions of bluefin tuna migrated through the Atlantic basin during the spring and dispersed throughout the Mediterranean Sea for milling. Their flesh was so important to the peoples of antiquity that they painted their image in the caves and immortalized it in their coins, from the Gades of the century BC. C., the current Cádiz, to Croatia. In the mid-nineteenth century, traps for tuna known as tonnara in Italy and traps in Spain captured tens of thousands of tons of bluefin tuna a year. Fishing was sustainable and fed thousands of fishermen and their families. Throughout the last decade, most of the red tuna in the market are fattening in cages along the coast to supply the sushi markets of Japan, America, and Europe. The just captured tunas are transferred to cages, where they are fed for months and even years with fatty fish such as anchovies and sardines so that their meat acquires the high content of fat that makes it so appreciated. The so-called globalization!

All this is a good example of the need for a change of mind of everyone. Only when we value animals as tuna properly and we become aware of the importance of responsible consumption we’ll be on the right path to end overexploitation.


Text of the chapter Sayonara Sushi in 100 secrets dels oceans, Esther Garcés, Daniel Closa, Cossetània Editions, 2018.