Why People In The US Used To Avoid Eating Bluefin Tuna

Correction: A previous version of this article named Atlantic bluefin tuna as endangered, Atlantic bluefin tuna is no longer considered an endangered species.

It's hard to believe, but your favorite sushi or omakase dish used to be considered a non-delicacy decades ago. The New Yorker reports that until the late 1960s, bluefin tuna was sold for under $1 per pound, and never in demand for fishmongers. Now you can't find fresh bluefin tuna for less than $66 a pound, according to Seafood Source. So what has drawn up the demand for bluefin tuna? And why has it been avoided in the United States for so long?

According to Smithsonian Magazine, bluefin tuna was considered a sports fish. Caught for fun, then ground up for cat food, bluefin tuna was traditionally considered a bloody-flesh fish and not desired for consumption. Before the proper storage and preparation of bluefin tuna, the fish omitted a foul odor and had a robust taste.

However, the culinary palate would soon change and make the future of bluefin tuna a delicacy.

How Japanese beef wagyu changed the culinary palate for bluefin tuna

As Smithsonian Magazine explains, before the 1970s, the palate for Japanese cuisine was geared heavily toward white fish and lighter fare. When the Japanese palate started to change to introduce dishes like beef wagyu, it affected the country's overall dietary preferences. It was then that the inclination to fattier types of protein started to rise, and the appeal for bluefin tuna emerged. They were trying to find a way to make this traditionally smelly fish appetizing. The Japanese discovered a way to store the fish underground and serve it alongside soy sauce for a melt-in-your-mouth delicacy.

In the early 2000s, the demand for bluefin tuna became so popular that the species faced a scarcity problem due to overfishing, leading people in the United States are avoiding bluefin tuna for another reason: to save it from extinction (via Center for Biological Diversity). Luckily for bluefin tuna fans, the tides may be turning on this prized fish. According to NOAA Fisheries, Atlantic bluefin tuna are no longer being overfished and described as a sustainable choice by the government group. While the International Union for Conservation of Nature would maybe not go quite so far (it breaks down Atlantic bluefin into two categories, stating that the Western Atlantic bluefin tuna appears to not be faring quite as well as the larger Eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna), it has moved the fish from endangered status to "of least concern." If fishers stay the course, National Geographic reports, scientists believe Atlantic bluefin tuna populations will return to their once healthy numbers.