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Int’l. Trade Ban Possible for OR Sushi Delicacy

March 16, 2010

PORTLAND, Ore. - Catch one fish and make $100,000. That’s the prize right now for fisherman hauling in Atlantic bluefin tuna, an enormous fish sold at a premium, whose flesh in a prime delicacy in sushi bars and restaurants. However, it may become harder to get, as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species is meeting this week to consider a ban on international trade of bluefin.

The director of international policy for the Pew Environment Group, Sue Lieberman, is one of those making the case for giving the fish a break so stocks can recover.

"The Atlantic bluefin tuna is a species that has declined so much that, on average, it's 85 percent gone. Less than 15 percent remains of what was once there."

The United States announced its support of the trade ban last week. Such a ban would mean U.S. fishermen could still catch some bluefin, but would only be able to sell it to U.S. customers. The EU also supports the ban, while Japan does not. Lieberman says Japanese companies have been stockpiling bluefin in warehouse freezers because of the threat of a ban, and because the species is declining.

If the ban is approved, it doesn’t mean bluefin will disappear entirely from sushi menus, although some Oregon restaurants have already opted to find alternatives. Lieberman says that for now, it's okay for local fans of the delicacy to keep ordering it.

"That doesn't mean that if you've eaten sushi, you're bad. Most of the sushi's going to Japan. The big problem is overfishing and illegal fishing, particularly in the Mediterranean."

Several species of shark are also being considered for limited trade because scientists say they've been overfished to supply shark fin soup.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species is meeting through March 25 in Doha, Qatar.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR