What your sushi is telling you

As Dickinsonians, it can be relatively easy to eat local and eat responsibly when it comes to the food that comes from the land. Veggies in our salad bar are sourced from the farm when in season. Fresh produce can be found at a regular farmers’ market, Farmers on the Square. More and more beef dishes in the dining hall, including burgers, are local and grass-fed. And, after a recent article in the Dickinsonian by Scott Hoffman ’12, we now know exactly how many animals it takes to feed the Caf, Quarry and Snar. But what about the sushi bar? Do you know what’s in your sushi, where it originates, and how it’s caught? Over the last week and a half, I spoke with representatives from the National Fisheries Service as well as from Saikou Sushi, the company that supplies Dickinson College with sushi for the sushi bar, trying to find out exactly what’s in your tuna roll and my California roll. What I found was at once re-assuring and surprising.

There are three main fish with which I was concerned when it came to Dickinson College sushi: bluefin tuna, yellowfin tuna and salmon. Atlantic bluefin tuna has seen decreases in population of around 82% and was actually petitioned for listing as an endangered species by several different conservation groups early last year. Unfortunately, such protection was denied by the Obama Administration, as reported in the May 27, 2011, issue of the New York Times. Thankfully, our sushi bar does not serve bluefin tuna, and Saikou Sushi said that it is trying to get Monterey Bay Seafood Watch certification. So in this case, I breathed a sigh of relief that Dickinson isn’t sponsoring the consumption of endangered species.

However, yellowfin tuna is sold in the tuna sushi available in the Underground, Quarry and Snar. This fish is harvested from the Philippines by one of the largest Asian food corporations in the world, the Japanese Food Corporation, also known as JFC. First of all, is it really sustainable to be eating food that had to be frozen and shipped, literally, halfway around the world? After considering this, a quick look at the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch card shows that only one out of five different types of yellowfin tuna is considered sustainable: US Atlantic and Pacific troll pole. This essentially means that the fish are being caught by individual rods out on the Atlantic and Pacific US coasts. These methods greatly reduce bycatch, or unintentional catch, of unwanted species. Unfortunately, all of the other methods of fishing are either labeled as “Avoid” or “Good Alternative”. So if your yellowfin is coming from the Philippines, chances are it’s not in the “Best Choice” category and is not sustainable.

Salmon is one of the most popular elements in sushi found on campus, and it can be quite complicated to try to tease apart the many different kinds of salmon and their origins. For instance, the only salmon that you can buy in a supermarket that comes from the Atlantic is farmed. However, you can also have Atlantic farmed salmon which was raised on the Pacific Coast, and Atlantic salmon is farmed as far away as Norway and Chile. On top of this, just because you buy salmon that has “wild” in the name does not actually mean it is wild, and in many cases may have actually been raised by humans and then thrown into the sea to mature. The salmon served at our sushi bar, however, is farmed Atlantic salmon, plain and simple.

There are two problems with this, the first being that Atlantic salmon, at least the stocks on this side of the Atlantic, is an endangered species according to the National Fisheries Service. This means that there are no Atlantic stocks of salmon being commercially exploited for the US market. They are commercially extinct. And the idea that the only place they exist in any reasonable number is in crammed pens where they are fattened for market is sad. Thankfully, there are some dedicated men and women who are attempting to revive this species. Nevertheless, of all the American rivers which once had Atlantic salmon in them, 30 of them have lost their salmon completely, seven are threatened with losing their salmon stocks and just six rivers have a population which exists solely through human intervention (North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization rivers database).

The second issue with farmed salmon is that they have been shown to have higher concentrations of PCBs (a fat soluble toxin) because they are fed wild fish, which brings up yet another issue. According to the NFS, most farmed Atlantic salmon are fed fish meal made from wild fish. So we are taking wild fish out of the natural ecosystem, which decreases the productivity of the natural ecosystem, to produce more wild fish. In short, farmed fish, such as salmon, means less wild fish. Does this make sense to you?

Finally, the shrimp in your shrimp roll comes from shrimp farms in Thailand where mangroves are destroyed to raise to them. This is because the easiest place to raise shrimp is in their natural habitat. The imitation crab in your California roll comes from Alaska pollock, which is currently in the “Good Alternatives” section of the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch card. Personally I’ve been sticking to California rolls and sweet tofu rolls, and as soon as they come out with an Albacore or Skipjack Tuna sushi, I’ll be all over it. But until then, listen to your sushi and the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch card found below!

From: Alexander Aflalo ’13
Published: May 6, 2012