Creative Conservation: Can Inventive American Sushi Save Bluefin Tuna?

Salmon Skin Sushi Roll

Do you prefer your sushi traditional or more on the creative side?

When talking with sushi lovers, the subject of creative license versus “stick to the basics” is polarizing and often a topic of great debate. If you tend to fall on the “stick to the basics” end, then you may become quite disappointed with sushi over the next few years as global seafood sustainability issues become more of a concern. The sushi industry is a major contributor to issues of seafood sustainability. Environmentalists warn that sushi lovers may soon live to see the extinction of the bluefin tuna, sushi’s trophy fish.


Before imagining a sushi bar without bluefin tuna, let’s think back to the creation of the California roll. Though we may think of the California roll as a roll to satisfy beginning sushi palates, it didn’t begin that way. According to Trevor Corson’s The Story of Sushi, the California roll was created to please the palates of Japanese businessmen at the restaurant Tokyo Kaiken in the late 1960’s. Chef Ichiro Mashita was having difficulties obtaining toro and needed a way to satisfy the rich taste and creamy texture of the fatty tuna belly. He resourcefully used avocados, which were plentiful, combined with crab to create the sensation of toro on the tongue. His creation later became one of the most important developments in sushi history – a development that was heralded because toro was unavailable.

Over the years, the California roll has became quite popular and has landed a permanent spot on sushi bar menus across America. But for all its popularity and ingenuity, the creative precedence it has set often gains mixed reviews for other would be classics. The idea of sushi being a creative endeavor rather than a strict regimen to be followed has worldwide critics suggesting that creative sushi isn’t sushi at all. These critics insist that sushi ingredients remain the same, no matter what.


And that brings us back to bluefin tuna (and many of the other seafood species we should avoid). If in fact what environmentalists and scientists suggest about bluefin tuna being on the verge of extinction is true, what will sushi lovers do when the supply is exhausted? What will we eat this time when toro, which incidentally comes from the fatty belly of the bluefin tuna, is unavailable? Will we embrace the world of sushi creativity and allow our sushi chefs to apply Mashita’s ingenuity? Or will we abandon sushi altogether?


Or will we embrace the world of creative sushi now while there is still a chance for the bluefin? If we could learn to eat less bluefin and allow our palates to be tantalized by some of the other fish in the sea, perhaps the bluefin population may stand a chance at survival and enjoyment for future generations.

Let’s embrace this new style of creative sushi. If we as sushi chefs uphold the highest standards of the cuisine while applying our creative interpretations, nothing is lost. And as diners, if we insist on knowing the origins of our seafood and avoiding those that should not be consumed, we can do our part in maintaining ocean friendliness. (And perhaps discover new favorites!)

Sustainable Seafood Resources 


Recipes for Photos Seen above:

Salmon Skin Maki

“Cat”erpillar Maki with Eel-Free Eel Sauce

This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012 and is filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


6 Responses to “Creative Conservation: Can Inventive American Sushi Save Bluefin Tuna?”

  1. Mike on February 22nd, 2012 at 10:40 am

    Great post Marisa, and an interesting topic to explore! I tend to be one of the traditionalists only because the overwhelming majority of ill-conceived rolls these days show no real understanding of the basic ideas of sushi. Simply adding more ingredients or smothering with hollandaise sauce or orange glaze does not make it innovative.

    That makes it difficult to recognize the truly interesting creations, using local, seasonal ingredients in smart combinations that do happen. I think YOU look for new ways to implement the core concepts in your environment, as a 21st century itamae. But I think most sushi bars just want to come up with new rolls as a marketing tool, and they turn out not to be so interesting. Still I remain on the lookout for interesting new takes on sushi…

  2. dhouse on February 22nd, 2012 at 11:17 am

    I still crave your inventive sushi. To this day all sushi i eat pales in comparison to your creations. I cant shake that yellow fin tuna sashimi seared withe brown butter JESUS CHRIST love u

  3. Jacqueline Church on February 22nd, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    Fantastic. Love the work you’re doing, Marisa! Rock on!

  4. Marisa on February 22nd, 2012 at 2:24 pm

    Mike, I agree that the more creative types can often use some work. But I think that the state of the oceans offers us a unique opportunity right now to apply some of that American ingenuity to create well crafted sushi in an American style, that pays tribute to the spirit behind Japanese cuisine.

    I think we just need to create some American sushi standards :)

  5. Marisa on February 22nd, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    Thanks, Jacqueline! I appreciate what you do, too! If we all stick together and promote this we can change the world.

  6. Adam @ Maki Zavelli on June 9th, 2012 at 2:44 pm

    Amen, sister! I think creative sushi is a great way to stand out as a chef and avoid being generic.

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