Something fishy with our fish

Mercury content is a concern when eating tuna, whether cooked or raw as in sushi, sashimi and ceviche. photo by Vivien Kim Thorp

Let me make one thing clear off the bat. I love maguro. LOVE IT. It’s like savory ocean pastry. Or red velvet cake with fins.

Okay, maybe I won’t make it as a food writer. But maguro sushi is obviously way high on my list of favorite eats. So a little part of my soul dies when I read reports like the one offered this week in the San Francisco Chronicle. A not-so-savory sample:

Tuna and swordfish collected from some California grocery stores and sushi restaurants contained mercury levels as much as three times the threshold that authorizes federal food regulators to pull seafood from shelves, according to a study by an environmental health group.
Ah, mercury. Helps mellow out the wasabi, you know?
In actuality, mercury is a neurotoxin. Those unlucky enough to suffer mercury poisoning can expect “loss of coordination, blurred vision or blindness, and hearing and speech impairment,” according to California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. Such poisoning, however, is rare; the real issue is with pregnant women passing smaller amounts of the toxin on to their unborn babies, who are more vulnerable to its deleterious effects. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has no problem with expecting mothers eating tuna in moderation, the researchers who conducted the California study claim 20 percent of the tuna sushi they tested contained levels of mercury in excess of the FDA’s thresholds.
The group in question is Marin’s Turtle Island Restoration Network, which carried out the study as part of its GotMercury initiative. In addition to this study (read the full report here), the initiative also provides various resources, like a handy mercury calculator that can tell you how much of a given variety of tuna you can safely consume. Apparently, my weekly allotment of bigeye ahi is two ounces. Hmmm, not sure that’s going to cut it.
Truth be told, the issue that myself and other maguro afficionados must face up to is not mercury. What we all should be more concerned about is the very real fact that we are about to eat tuna into extinction. But that is a matter for another post.
About Alec Yoshio MacDonald

Alec Yoshio MacDonald is an associate editor at the Nichi Bei Weekly. His work has also appeared in Nikkei Heritage, the Pacific Citizen, Nikkei Family Magazine, the Chicago Shimpo, the East Bay Express and Hyphen Magazine. He lives in Oakland.

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