EP 605 | AIRED 09/05/2022
Sustainable Sushi: How Sustainable Are The Top Sushi Species in America?
Sep 5th, 2022 - Sushi, (perhaps more than any other seafood category), is perceived with overfishing and activist tout as something we must avoid or “reinvent” to sustain ocean health.
Although this message is incorrect, it is also not totally incorrect.
Though stocks of popular sushi species like bigeye and yellowfin tuna are generally healthy, there are others that have few sustainable sources and are almost exclusively imported with little information.
Finding sustainable options for top sushi species consumed in the US is not always easy, however sustainable sushi is widely available.
So what does the sustainability landscape look like for the Top Sushi Species Categories in America?
In this chart created by Sustainable Fisheries UW, it shows the source ratings and certification counts for sustainable and unsustainable sources.
To better contextualize these results here is a very brief assessment for each of those species.
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Ahi is the most popular sushi species but is also the trickiest category to assess. Traceable, sustainable ahi is almost always more expensive so a higher priced product should ensure a product with less sustainability, environmental, and social risk.
Atlantic Salmon can be tricky to assess without proof of certification but this category has come a long way in the last 15 years and today, most global production meets high environmental standards.
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Almost 2 point 5 million metric tons of MSC certified walleye pollock hit the global markets every year from Alaska and Russia. This sushi category is very sustainable and does not need to be reinvented.
India, Ecuador, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Thailand are the top 5 exporters of shrimp to the U.S.. Although there are environmental challenges for farmed and wild shrimp sources the sustainability outlook is positive. If you’re willing to pay more, you are often rewarded with a sustainable product.
[Yellowtail Amberjack / Hamachi]
This category is considered unsustainable and scores low on Seafood Watch for chemical use and effluent impacts to habitats. Majority comes as “ranched” fish from Japan. Sustainable alternatives exist however availability and quality are inconsistent.
The albacore tuna sushi category is similar to ahi but with fewer environmental concerns. Albacore caught by US fleets is a safe choice and there are many global sustainably rated and certified sources.
Wild populations of Japanese & European Eel are endangered. Seafood Watch rates American eel farmed in indoor recirculating systems and wild caught in North Carolina as a “Good Alternative” however these sources are not readily available on the market today thus finding sustainable domestic eel offerings can be very challenging.
Octopus is the fastest-growing seafood species category in the U.S.. Most sushi offerings will be common octopus or big blue octopus and when from Spain, Portugal, and Senegal caught by pot or jig, is rated as a Seafood Watch “Good Alternative”.
MSC certified sources for Scallop account for a significant market share and none of the scallop fisheries rated by Seafood Watch received an “Avoid” rating. Wild caught and farmed scallops are highly sustainable.
For additional analysis of each category, please see the report version below this video or in the links below.
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