Warm-blooded, topping out at 1,500 pounds, and able to swim faster than 50 miles an hour, tuna captured the imagination of fisherman long before the advent of Charlie Tuna or the sushi bar. To the ancient Phoenicians, who caught them in vast cities of nets, they were as important as the buffalo was to the American Indian; today, American consumers eat more than one billion pounds of canned tuna per year. In Tuna: A Love Story, Richard Ellis describes the ways of these sleek, ceaselessly wandering creatures and the fishermen who catch them by hook or net (or, currently, raise them to market size in pens called “tuna ranches” in the open sea). Ellis exhaustively documents the toll commercial fishing takes on wild populations of tuna — especially the remarkable bluefin, largest of the several tuna species and focus of the sushi trade. Swimming in all the planet’s oceans, bluefin are apex predators whose disappearance would upset open-ocean ecosystems worldwide. Meanwhile, rising mercury levels in tuna flesh — a measure of increasing ocean pollution — threaten to render this important protein source inedible. Ellis not only fears for the state of the seas and human health but for the fate of this majestic creature — and on the savagery that takes place far out to sea beyond the consumer’s gaze, he is unsparing: “Seeing a bluefin tuna gaffed with spears,” he writes, “is like seeing a thoroughbred racehorse being hacked to death with an ax.”
About the Author
Matthew Battles is the author of Library: An Unquiet History. He has written about language, technology, and history for such publications as The American Scholar, The Boston Sunday Globe, and Harper's.