March 29, 2008

Sushi Popularity Causes Strain

The recent sushi boom has had somewhat of an adverse effect due to over-confident consumers, fake sushi bars, and a strained fish stock. Sushi, once a rare treat only consumed by the wealthy, has recently become familiar fare. Experts in the industry are fighting the potential and present problems by raising awareness.

Yoshi Tome, a chef who resides in California says, ""Everybody thinks: 'sushi is so expensive -- I can buy cheap fish, fresh fish, I can make it at home.' It's not true. Not every fish is suitable to eat raw." Sushi Ran, Tome's restaurant in Sausalito has a Michelin star. Tome feels driven to give advice and training in regards to preparing Japanese food. According to him, not just any fish can be eaten raw, but many have to be cooked to be safely served. Salmon is one such fish; due to its issues with parasites it needs to be frozen, cooked, or marinated prior to serving.

Tome's concern is with those who are amateurs and enter the industry sans training. He, as well as other chefs warn of this lack of awareness and the dangers of it.

The lack of education is not the only problem when it comes to the upsurge of sushi sales. In Britain alone, sushi fever has spread so far that buyers and suppliers are becoming concerned about the supply of natural resources. According to Caroline Bennett, the founder of the UK's first conveyor-belt sushi chain, over-fishing is a huge problem. She asked at a recent conference, "Can the sea really let us eat sushi in these numbers?" At the conference, representatives from the 13 nations who consume the largest quantity of tuna as well as scientists met and discussed the possible extinction of the most critical component of some of the most popular types of sushi.

These problems with the rapidly expanding market need viable solutions. Bureaucrats from Japan first came up with the idea of a "sushi police" to take care of the adverse effects of amateur sushi chefs. These "police" would asses Japanese restaurants overseas. This idea was quickly criticized and dropped in favor of a new solution: to educate and advise the unknowledgeable.

Ryuji Ishii, who runs the largest supplier of fresh sushi to U.S. grocery stores, believes that education is important not only for food safety but also to spread exotic food to America. The Advanced Fresh Concepts Franchise Corp, Ishii's company has already begun the education process by opening ready-to-eat sushi stalls in Wal-Mart stores nationwide. Ninety stores have been opened so far, and over 400 are planned.

The Challenge for Ishii, who says sales are only "decent" is dealing with this new, mainstream market. He feels that the consumers need a bit more time to be educated. He plans on doing this by sampling sushi to shoppers "“ favorites such as the California Roll have made some success. He believes this will be the hook needed to grab the consumers' attention.

In the tuna-talks, Caroline Bennett listened to the ideas of the JRO, the group who wishes to train and educate those working in Japanese restaurants, but believes their efforts may be in vain. Current levels of over-fishing and violation of rules are the biggest threat to the industry. Several groups proposed a temporary ban on tuna catching and a tightening of fishing rules. Eventually, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas wishes to issue a plan for increasing world tuna stocks.  Hopefully, these solutions are enough to keep up with such high demand.


On the Net:

The Advanced Fresh Concepts Franchise Corp

International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas