LONDON – Japanese consumers are being urged to stop eating endangered bluefin tuna after a celebrity chef with restaurants in Japan decided to take it off all his menus.
Gordon Ramsay, who has two restaurants at the Conrad Tokyo hotel, has removed the endangered fish from the menus of all of his outlets worldwide following pressure from the Marine Conservation Society.
Over the last few years in Britain, several restaurants specializing in Japanese cuisine have taken bluefin tuna off their menus amid growing concern over dwindling stocks due to overfishing.
Bluefin is coveted for sushi and sashimi and around 80 percent of the world’s stocks are consumed in Japan.
Environmentalists are hoping Ramsay’s move might prompt Japanese consumers to give up their beloved bluefin for more environmentally sustainable fish.
Bryce Beukers-Stewart of the Marine Conservation Society said: “We would like to see the demand for bluefin tuna reduced in Japan. They are eating an endangered species, just like a tiger or rhinoceros.
“There are plenty of sustainable alternatives, such as yellowfin tuna. It’s a much better choice and makes good sushi.”
Ramsay is a three-star Michelin chef who has been highly successful in Britain. He has also built up a lot of Japanese fans in London, hence his decision to branch out into Japan in 2005. In Tokyo, his restaurants focus on French food. They have only used yellowfin tuna “because bluefin is neither environmentally nor financially viable,” a spokeswoman said.
One of his popular dishes in London was the $170-a-head carpaccio of bluefin tuna and swordfish with brown butter.
Alternatively, diners could have had the bluefin starter with roasted cep tartar, caviar, basil puree and spring onions.
But his company said in a recent statement: “following increased concern about the risks posed to stocks of bluefin tuna, Gordon Ramsay Holdings Ltd. removed all bluefin tuna from dishes on its menus across all restaurants in the group.”
The statement added that yellowfin tuna would, where appropriate, be used instead and every effort would go into sourcing environmentally sustainable fish.
This was something of a publicity coup for the Marine Conservation Society as Ramsay hosts popular TV cooking shows in Britain and the U.S.
This is not the first time a restaurant has taken the endangered fish off the menu.
In 1999, the Moshi Moshi chain of Japanese restaurants in Britain removed bluefin following concerns about the decline in stocks.
Managing director Caroline Bennett said the initial decision did not go down particularly well with customers who relished the bluefin “toro” (fatty belly).
However, she said that over time diners have supported the move and for now they are using yellowfin tuna.
She said, “In questionnaires in our restaurants, customers place a high priority on the environment and environmental sustainability.”
Beukers-Stewart said some other restaurant chains, including Yo!Sushi, are now advertising that they only work with environmentally sustainable products.
Bluefin is probably now confined in Britain to upmarket Japanese-owned restaurants.
“Consumers in Britain have become particularly aware about the issue of sustainability over the last two years,” Beukers-Stewart said.
The Marine Conservation Society has issued a list of 43 “fish to avoid” either because their stocks are dangerously low or the method of fishing impacts other species.
In most cases, consumers are advised to avoid fish from certain oceans, rather than there being an outright ban. People are urged not to buy the northern, southern and Pacific bluefin tuna.
Beukers-Stewart said British supermarket chains generally avoided selling all the fish on the list, but there were one or two exceptions.
The EU recently decided to reduce the amount of bluefin tuna it catches in the Mediterranean following concern over stock levels.