Upscale Sushi Chefs Fight Overfishing Sustainably

Sushi chefs confront the monster American appetites that threaten our oceans

| September-October, 2009

One day in 2007,  Kin Lui was taking a break from his shift at an upscale Japanese restaurant in San Francisco. A piece in the Chronicle caught his eye: Stocks of bluefin tuna—the sine qua non of any sushi bar worthy of its lucky cat figurine—were flat-lining due to overfishing.

Later, at Hana Zen, where Lui moonlighted, he described what he’d read to co-chef and buddy Raymond Ho. They agreed the news was tragic—then went to work behind a bar stocked with cherry-pink blocks of bluefin. “At the time, it seemed like we couldn’t do much,” Lui recalls.

But eventually Lui and Ho did do something. In February 2008, they set up behind the sushi bar at Tataki, their first venture as owners. The 26-seat restaurant started with a simple mission rooted in that Chronicle article: serve only seafood that was sustainably farmed or wild caught. Soon, Tataki was being hailed as the only fully sustainable sushi bar in the nation.

Still, with growing awareness of the role sushi has played in decimating the world’s fisheries, one wonders whether places like Tataki can stop our appetites from emptying the oceans.


In 2007 Americans picked up chopsticks and dipped 2.5 million sushi meals into slurries of wasabi and soy sauce. It’s a figure capped with a question mark: Is sushi as we know it—from prepacked supermarket rolls to exquisite omakase meals—doomed, inevitably, to extinction?

9/14/2009 12:58:23 PM

I've been off of "mystery" fish for years- if I don't know how & where it was caught, it's mercury content, environmental impact ... I don't want it in my body. I'm happy to say that there are many alternatives to murderously plundering our oceans. In the San Francisco Bay Area there are many restaurants offering delicious veggie alternatives to eating fish in your sushi... in addition to learning to make your own makis at home. I've found that doing this has raised my ready to snack food at home to a whole new realm– far more tasty and filling than your typical snack. And what a nutritious way to get in land and sea veggies, EFA oils and a chance to have those lovely, exotic tasting vinegar and plum paste flavors right out of your own fridge! Quick and easy to make, they'll keep for a couple days and are such satisfying ready food for the next time you've got the munchies. In San Francisco, the crowning jewel of artfully done, inspired in presentation, organic veggie sushi is Minako Organic Japanese Restaurant at 2154 Mission Street (yes, they also offer fish on the menu). A Google search will turn up rave reviews for this tiny little "hole in the wall" with tasteful decor run by a mother and daughter team. Talk about a special occasion place to let your food experience be your art. I will say no more ...

Michael Straus
8/26/2009 1:18:39 PM

Chef seeking sustainable seafood suppliers should check out: (free, run by a non-profit, using standards set by leading conservation organizations)

Michael Straus
8/26/2009 1:18:03 PM

Chef seeking sustainable seafood suppliers should check out: (free, run by a non-profit, using standards set by leading conservation organizations)