Have you ever eaten sushi? If so, the phenomenal growth in demand for sushi has come at a cost: overfishing has led to depleting fish stocks, which in turn has threatened the balance of the ocean’s ecosystems. Is the current sushi trade sustainable? What can be done to ensure that the prized Blue Fin Tuna exists for future generations to come? This timely documentary winner of the Special Jury Prize at the 2011 Seattle International Film Festival and the Audience Award at the 2012 San Francisco Green Film Festival poses some important questions that all sushi lovers should give thought to before placing their next order of sushi. From humble beginnings as a simple food sold by Japanese street vendors, sushi has exploded into an international phenomenon in the past 30 years. SUSHI: THE GLOBAL CATCH is a feature-length documentary shot in five countries exploring the history, problems and future of this popular cuisine. Much of sushi’s rich cultural tradition that began in Tokyo is changing as raw fish now appear from cities like Warsaw and New York to small towns worldwide. But what is the cost? Will the worldwide hunger for sushi continue to grow until wild fish vanish, or will new technology like aquaculture keep plates full? Can sustainable sushi restaurants satisfy consumers or will competition for declining resources drive prices so high that only a few can afford raw fish?
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the most radical of the major organizations for animal rights, would like us all to go vegan, not primarily for environmental reasons but for the welfare of the animals themselves. Mark Hall, who directs the documentary “Sushi: The Global Catch,” is more moderate. He, and some of the members of the interviewed cast, have no ethical problems regarding the rights of fish or, for that matter, any members of the animal kingdom. They explore the fish industry, specifically the sushi segment, for environmental reasons. According to Mr. Hall, human beings are upsetting the ecological system (what a surprise!) specifically by their consumption of Bluefin tuna, a majestic ocean fish, so valued that just one of them was bought at auction for $400,000. By stripping the seas of this huge creature which is at the top of the fish-food pyramid, we are allowing the second-in-line predator fish which are consumed by the Bluefish tuna to live, leading to an oversupply of secondary predators. These secondary predators eat so many of the fish below them on the food chain that there are no terciary fish left. The ironic result? The secondary predators will starve and be eliminated as well, leaving only jelly fish for us to eat (more or less).
“People taking a paycheck from the oceans must be responsible for their actions,” Trenor says in the film, adding, “Corporations follow consumers, and in this case, consumers can choose to learn more and only consume sustainable seafood.” While traveling, the film’s director, Mark Hall, was amazed by sushi’s popularity in Eastern Europe; he sees the trend as emblematic of how rapidly economies have globalized. Over the next few years, as China in particular embraces more worldly foods, it’s predicted that there will be 50 million new sushi lovers. Couple that with the fact that Atlantic bluefin stocks have fallen 90%, and it becomes clear why this is an important film.
So Hall visits Tokyo’s Tsukiji market — the world’s largest fish market — with diversions to Poland, the US, Australia, and China, and finally focuses on one of the cuisine’s tastiest treats: bluefin tuna, which one observer calls “the Porsche of the oceans.” It’s also overfished, and on the brink of extinction, which threatens to destroy an entire ecosystem. Good point, but in trying to cover all these topics, Hall casts too wide a net. Aside from that, how can you fault a documentary that is not only engaging, but entertaining and important? Give this one a watch as it comes highly recommended.