World Ocean Day: Open Letter to Master Chef Australia Magazine on Tuna Recipe and Overfishing

 To Editor-in-Chief:  Trudi Jenkins  masterchef@newsmagazines.com.au

  When Jamie Oliver discovered that the Northern Bluefin Tuna was being fished to the brink of extinction, he removed it from his recipes. Now, on World Oceans Day, it is time to ask the good people at Master Chef Australia to do the same.

 I’d like to preface by acknowledging I am fan of the show, my own cooking has improved from watching and I believe it is encouraging thousands of Australians back to better home cooking.

 However, in the first issue of the new magazine three recipes concerned me greatly. These recipes used yellowfin tuna, identified by Greenpeace as being in dramatic decline due to overfishing, and Sirena canned tuna, identified in the Greenpeace canned tuna study as the worst of 10 varieties of canned tuna available in Australia.

In describing Sirena, Greenpeace say “Sirena does not have a sustainable seafood procurement policy and hasn’t indicated whether it supports marine reserves. Sirena does not have an equitable sourcing policy. Sirena is an irresponsible company that does not even let consumers know which tuna is in its cans. Sirena must be transparent and frank about its tuna and the fishing methods it uses.”

In the magazine I commend you for acknowledging that there are  issues surrounding southern bluefin tuna and overfishing, but I hope you will consider given this further information that your comments have not gone far enough to address the serious concerns with the sustainability of tuna.

Southern bluefin tuna, as you rightly acknowledge, is the ‘front line’ in the fight to save tuna.  Scientists believe bluefin faces the threat of extinction with populations now below 5% of pre-fishing levels. The southern bluefin tuna is listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) as critically endangered.

Australia still fishes for bluefin, catching them at sea and bringing them to holding pens to grow them to market size.  The fish are fed from a wild fishery, primarily of pilchards, that stretches from South Australia to Western Australia. Many tonnes of pilchards are required to produce each tonne of tuna. It is a wasteful way of producing fish and continues to place pressure on the declining stocks of this beautiful ocean predator.

However, despite the science, fishermen continue to believe there are plenty of fish.  This was the same situation in Newfoundland, Canada, before the famous collapse of their massive cod fishery that employed tens of thousands of people.  Because cod live in schools, fishermen kept catching them right up to the last few fish.  It appreared the fish were still abundant to the fishermen; and the scientists warnings were ignored. The Canadian cod fishery was closed in 1992 and has never recovered.

Other tuna species like yellowfin are now well down the path to reaching this same dire situation.

As you mention in your article a South Australian company has managed to breed bluefin in captivity and won recognition in Time magazine, but unfortunately that experiment was set back a long way when all the baby fish died unexplainably. 

Better than aquaculture is a sustainably managed wild fishery where fishing levels and methods are carefully controlled and marine sanctuaries are used to protect feeding and breeding areas. This will ensure adequate breeding stocks to keep replenishing the fish – it is simple; bigger healthier fish populations breed more productively.  A demise of the oceans fish is not inevitable.

In terms of what tuna we can still eat under the current situation, Greenpeace has determined that Albacore Tuna are in better shape although also overfished.  The best choice is Skipjack Tuna where populations are healthy, although the method of fishing should be checked – fishing methods.

Like Jamie Oliver in the UK, the celebrity Chefs of Master Chef Australia are in a unique position to help with efforts to ensure healthy seafood supplies and healthy oceans into the future.  I commend you for taking the first steps to acknowledging the sustainability issues around Tuna in your magazine, but ask that you go further in researching the very real problems in this industry, and use your well deserved celebrity status to encourage people and the tuna industry to make more ethical choices.

As a first step, please recommend only more sustainable tuna choices in your recipes.

A second step could be to more broadly embrace recipes for sustainable fish, and support marine sanctuaries through campaigns like Save Our Marine Life.

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One thought on “World Ocean Day: Open Letter to Master Chef Australia Magazine on Tuna Recipe and Overfishing

  1. Pingback: Posts of the Months « The Happy Squid Blog

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