Photo: VirtualErn, Flickr
We can't help but wonder if Guido Rahr, president of the Wild Salmon Center in Portland, Ore., thought he was smack in the middle of ABC's hidden camera series, "What Would You Do?"
Rahr spotted Atlantic bluefin tuna on the menu at Sinju Restaurant's Pearl District location while having lunch, and proceeded to do exactly what groups like Seafood Watch, Environmental Defense Fund or Blue Ocean Institute encourage: he politely spoke up. And as a result, got himself banned from the restaurant. That's right, according to Rahr, they said he was no longer welcome at Sinju and would refuse to serve him.
In an email dated August 16, to Mike Chen of Sinju's management team, Rahr writes:
"I have been a regular customer of Sinju for years and the Wild Salmon Center has given Sinju quite a bit of business. So when I saw Atlantic Bluefin tuna on the menu, I felt it was important for Sinju to know that this is not just another declining species, but perhaps the most high profile endangered fish species on earth."
Rahr had been eating at Sinju for nearly a decade. The headquarters for his environmental group is located in the Ecotrust Natural Capital Center, across the street from the restaurant, and is home to several other conservation and sustainable development groups who share similar concerns about endangered species.
Rahr didn't just mention that bluefin was overfished, he took the time to come back with printed materials detailing the seriousness of their plight in the hopes that at the very least, the team at Sinju would think twice before putting the fish on the menu again.
"I was surprised that Sinju's reaction to all this was not to stop selling bluefin, or to even politely disagree with a loyal customer, but to ban me from eating at Sinju," he continues in his letter. He has not yet received a reply from the restaurant to his letter.
Rahr, who says he doesn't recall seeing bluefin on the menu prior to this incident, is still stunned.
"I'm a regular customer. I didn't just walk in out of nowhere, and I did it in such a respectful way. I mean, this is Portland we're talking about," he says.
While the restaurant isn't alone in being pressured to stop serving bluefin, their ban on Rahr for broaching the topic has caught the attention of industry watchers. Kristofor Lofgren, owner of Bamboo Sushi, recognized as one of the most sustainable sushi restaurants in the nation, located just three-miles from Sinju, says he's disappointed that Sinju wasn't open to a conversation about conservation, but adds that environmentalists need to be more thoughtful about their own food choices.
"When you're the head of an environmental organization devoted to the preservation of one of the most important species economically and culturally to the Northwest, and you eat at a place that doesn't serve wild salmon, that was surprising to me. I'm surprised that Ecotrust, or any members of Ecotrust, would support or align themselves with any organization that doesn't directly support their initiative and mission back," says Lofgren.