Score One for Atlantic Bluefin Tuna–And for Consumer Outrage

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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 Sinju Restaurant in Portland, Ore., 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.

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.”

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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5 comments

  1. melissa pasanen says:

    power of the pen (keyboard?) – and the consumer. Nice to see they still work sometimes.

  2. Rodney North says:

    I’m glad that Guido Rahr spoke up. Civilization has a better chance of righting its course if more of us follow his example.

    I’m also glad that – eventually – the restaurant did the right thing.

    But unfortunately Sinju’s first reaction – to “shoot the messenger” – is all too common.
    Too many businesses, and business leaders are just not open to uncomfortable information that might force them to change. What’s more surprising is that Rahr wasn’t just a messenger with important information that could actually help the restaurant, he was a regular paying customer to boot. You have to _really_ want to stick you head in the sand to do something like this.

  3. Karen says:

    Great story….it brings to my mind, as I just had Sushi on Friday night…..that I would love to have a list of fish that are endangered or at least over-fished. I am not certain that I would be able to review a menu with that kind of detail. I subscribe to newletters from the Environmental Working Group…that might be a good place to start.

  4. Sagan says:

    It’s great to see that consumers have a voice. If we speak up, we can make a difference.

    I’m with Rahr that it’s unfortunate that this kind of pressure is even necessary for restaurants and food manufacturers to make changes – but if it’s about spreading awareness, then we just have to keep at it.

  5. Barry says:

    Hi, Karen. Barry, here. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch propgram has just such a list focused on sushi–you can print it out, maybe even download is as an ap. Here’s a link. http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/cr_seafoodwatch/sfw_sushi.aspx

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