food
3:18 pm
Fri December 3, 2010

Austin Sushi Master Says Not All Blue Fin Tuna Is Equally Un-PC

An American environmentalist group urged consumers to boycott blue fin tuna this week. The Center for Biological Diversity said the species is critically endangered because of overfishing and the BP oil leak. But Austin restauranteur Tyson Cole says his restaurant tries to serve blue fin tuna that is harvested responsibly.

Last weekend, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas voted to ban the fishing of a number of species including some shark. But the group left blue fin tuna on the menu.

Meanwhile, McClatchy Newspapers has reported on the potentially devastating effect this summer's BP oil leak may have had on blue fin tuna in the Gulf of Mexico.

"There hasn't been work done in the past regarding the effects of oil and dispersant on bluefin larvae and juveniles, although some of that work is currently being started," said Andre M. Boustany, a bluefin expert at Duke University.

"While the spill didn't occur in the region of the Gulf of Mexico with the highest density of past bluefin spawning, which is farther to the west, there is definitely a spawning that occurs in the region of the spill," he said. "In addition to that, the fish that are spawned in the western Gulf have to pass through the eastern Gulf, and potentially the oil and dispersants, on their way out of the Gulf. So while the direct effects of the spill on bluefin spawning haven't been assessed, I think anyone would be hard-pressed to make the case that the effect would be positive."

But the local chef Cole says not all blue fin tuna are equally unsustainable. His Uchi restaurant serves toro - the fatty, highly coveted tuna belly -  harvested by a company called Sekol in Perth, Australia.

"They have a quota, and they only sell so many per time period. They're trying to be as responsible as possible, and as close to sustainable as possible with the product they're selling," Cole told KUT News.

"They're actually growing the species where they're selling it," Cole said.

Cole says many of his customers still raise concern about blue fin tuna. That was part of the reason why he chose not to sell it at his newer, slightly less expensive restaurant Uchiko.

"We're about 95 percent sustainable, I would say. We try to do it as much as we can. We still try to sell a little bit of toro, which is blue fin at Uchi, but no blue fin at Uchiko," Cole said.

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