Emilia Duno, a senior in the IB Film Program at Lamar High School, asked Mark Hall, director of Sushi: The Global Catch, a few questions about his film and what inspired the Austin-based filmmaker to address the issue of overfishing.
Are you a sushi fan? Favorite kind?
MH: Yes, I really like sushi. I definitely approach it differently after making Sushi: The Global Catch. I try to find restaurants that are knowledgeable about where their fish are sourced and steer clear of species that are on the "red" list of the Seafood Watch buyer's guide. My favorite sushi is uni, preferably from Canada or off the coast of California.
In 1998, you established a rather successful online education portal. How important has the Internet been to you as an independent filmmaker, in terms of marketing and promoting your films?
MH: I started the edX educational portal in the early days of the Internet. At one point it was on the "Interactive 500" and had the largest database of college-level courses and other classes on the Internet. My experience with the Internet definitely made me research methods of marketing films to potential audiences. We have strived to create an interesting Facebook page for Sushi: The Global Catch and have used online services like Withoutabox.com and Tugg.com for reaching out to audiences for the film.
How did you first become aware of this problem of decreasing tuna populations?
MH: It became very clear to me after interviewing sushi chefs, as well as marine biologists and workers at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, that tuna was being overfished. As Mamoru Sugiyama at Sushiko in Tokyo says in the film, "We will run out of tuna before we run out of oil." Marine biologists including MacArthur Grant recipient Barbara Block of Stanford were connecting the huge global growth of sushi as a cuisine in the rapid reduction of top-level fish such as the bluefin tuna. And ocean conservationists at Greenpeace told me that the Mediterranean would be commercially extinct of bluefin tuna in just a few years. Other types of tuna are also being fished in tremendous quantities. This was a clear wake-up call for me that sushi lovers and others could potentially improve this risk of extinction and trophic collapse of other high-level fish by changing their habits when eating sushi—in essence, avoiding fish that are threatened.
Do you believe that culinary pleasure and the sustainability of tuna populations are mutually exclusive?
MH: Not at all. There are plenty of fish available for sushi other than bluefin tuna. Actually, albacore tuna (so-called white tuna) caught off the coast of the Pacific Northwest can be a good alternative to the red varieties. And it's important to know that red tuna was not always the most highly sought-after fish for sushi in Japan and elsewhere. I was told that red tuna such as the bluefin became more popular in Japan after World War II when Japanese people sought foods that had a richer taste. In any case, Japanese sushi chefs seem very flexible and seemed okay with altering their menus with non-tuna selections should that day come for them (there are still plenty of tuna—albeit in smaller sizes than 20 years ago—for sale at Tsukiji Fish Market). We can still enjoy sushi, help sustain and improve tuna populations, and improve our oceans' health.
Where can we learn more about you and your films?
MH: I'm pretty active on Facebook—that's a good place to connect with me and follow the films I am working on. You can also visit the website of my distributor, Kino Lorber, for information on Sushi: The Global Catch.
Sushi: The Global Catch screens at the MFAH several times in October. Click here for info & tix!