Apprentices learn to prepare rice for two years at the Sushi Iwa restaurant in Tokyo. Then they move on to a next step: “If you cannot handle the knife,” says chef Yasuhara Iida, “You cannot cut fish three years start handling fish.” It’s only in the seventh year that someone is allowed to serve customers. As Sushi: The Global Catch opens with such description and illustration—numerous close-ups of perfectly prepared sushi, scenes at the Aritsugu Knife Shop and the Tsukiji fish market—you might guess it’s another film about the art of food, the hard work of a restaurant or the triumphs of a chef. It is not. Instead, Mark Hall’s documentary looks at the sushi industry, the evolution of its popularity and what might be termed its extreme profitability.
More specifically, the film investigates the unsustainability for a business so dependent on a specific fish, the bluefin tuna. “We used to call them the Porsche of the ocean,” says Mike Sutton, Director Center for the Future of the Oceans in Monterey, California, “because it’s as fast as a Porsche, it’s as big as a Porsche… and it’s as expensive as a Porsche: one fish goes for more than 100,000 US dollars.” It’s also crucial to a food chain, argues restaurateur and Greenpeace activist Casson Trenor. While it’s possible to farm bluefin, the industry by and large remains focused on exploiting the resource at hand. Sutton notes that tuna is nominally regulated by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic, but, as ICAT is also known as “the International Conspiracy to Catch All Tunas because of their ineffectiveness,” no one seems to be holding his breath waiting for its success. “If we can’t protect the men women and children from slaughter in Rwanda,” submits marine biologist and tuna expert Alistair Douglas, “How are we going to protect tuna from slaughter in the ocean?”