A Small Victory for Bluefin Tuna

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Guido Rahr has the sort of gumption I wish I had.

I reported a month ago that when Rahr saw endangered Atlantic bluefin tuna on the menu at Sinju Restaurant in Portland, Oregon, he spoke up. Rahr quietly asked the chef if he knew that the fish was nearly extinct and politely suggested that it should be removed from the menu, if for no other reason than because it was likely to be bad for business in the environmentally conscious city. The next time he dropped by for lunch, Rahr, who heads the Wild Salmon Center, an environmental organization with offices across the street from Sinju, was informed by the hostess that he had been banned from the establishment.

In the food world, consumers can make a difference.

Earlier this week, after a barrage of criticism from the media and environmental groups, the three-restaurant chain announced that it would no longer serve Atlantic bluefin.

"We should have been more up to date on this issue of sustainability and how it lives in the minds of Portlanders," Jae en Woo, the daughter of the owner, told Grant Butler of The Oregonian. "I know this sounds really irresponsible, and I know aquariums often have literature about what's sustainable and what's not, but when you're living in the bubble of running your own business you're largely unaffected by these issues until a situation like this comes up."


MORE ON BLUEFIN TUNA:
Trevor Corson: Don't Miss It
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Michael Cimarusti: Make Love, Not Sushi

Mr. Rahr was attending a salmon conservation conference in far-western Russia when he read about the restaurant's decision on a website. "I'm thrilled," he said in a telephone interview. "Good for them. I'm surprised it took so much attention and pressure, but they did the right thing."

No one has contacted him to say that his ban has been lifted, but he said that if it is, he would be happy to return to his former status as a regular customer.

The take-home message from this episode is that in the food world, consumers can make a difference. There's a lesson here for all high-end sushi purveyors who still offer Atlantic bluefin. Nobu Matsuhisa, take note.

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Barry Estabrook is a former contributing editor at Gourmet magazine. He is the author of the recently released Tomatoland, a book about industrial tomato agriculture. He blogs at politicsoftheplate.com. More

Barry Estabrook was formerly a contributing editor at Gourmet magazine. Stints working on a dairy farm and commercial fishing boat as a young man convinced him that writing about how food was produced was a lot easier than actually producing it. He is the author of the recently released Tomatoland, a book about industrial tomato agriculture. He lives on a 30-acre tract in Vermont, where he gardens and tends a dozen laying hens, and his work also appears at politicsoftheplate.com.
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