Rare tuna offerings hit raw nerve

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 August, 2011, 12:00am


A row has broken out over the sale of critically endangered bluefin tuna at the Food Expo.

At loggerheads are an international conservation group, exhibitors and the Trade and Development Council, which organises the expo.

As representatives of the Japan-based Yashima Shoji Company handed out bite-sized pieces of the delicacy yesterday, Gary Stokes, a member of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, tried to alert people to the nature of the fish they were sampling. 'It's like eating a panda,' he said to the crowds gathered for the food. 'Who wants some endangered species?'

Although tasters slowly backed away from the counter, they were soon replaced by more eager hands.

The episode highlights the difficulties in protecting the species, because of its high commercial value, popularity, and the nonchalance of some consumers towards its possible extinction. 'It's just one type of fish,' one woman said. 'There are many, many more fish in the sea.'

Along with pandas and tigers, the northern bluefin tuna, also known as the Atlantic bluefin, is on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of the species it sees as in greatest need of conservation. Although the species is considered by the union as more endangered than the tiger or the panda, the fish do not have the same kind of protection.

A proposal to ban international trade in the tuna was rejected at a 2010 meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in Doha, Qatar.

'The bluefin tuna is not listed as an endangered species in Hong Kong or elsewhere in the world,' TDC spokeswoman Katherine Chan said. 'Since we are promoting free trade and it's legal to sell and promote bluefin tuna in Hong Kong, we don't see why we should take action to ban the bluefin tuna.'

While some samplers look ashamed others like tea firm representative Liu Jinghui were less so.

'It's delicious,' she said. 'I think it's OK to eat a reasonable amount. We know it's endangered, but people keep eating it. You're not going to stop people from eating it just because it's endangered.'

With high demand and rapidly falling supply for what the company describes on the TDC website as 'the most precious part ... featuring a soft and tender texture which melts in your mouth', trade is lucrative.

In January, Hong Kong's Itamae Sushi and a Japanese restaurant paid 32.49 million yen (HK$3.07 million), for a single 342kg bluefin tuna.

In March last year, supermarket chain City'super was selling bluefin tuna for between HK$100 and HK$300 per 100 grams. It later took the product off its shelves after shoppers threatened to boycott the chain if it did not halt the sales.

Representatives of Yashima Shoji declined to comment.