It was reported last week that a bluefin tuna just fetched a record-breaking 16.28 million yen ($175,000) at the Tokyo fish market. This is a stark illustration of the risk faced by global bluefin tuna populations. There’s a belief out there by some that a fish species will become economically extinct, meaning costs to catch it become too high and demand collapses, before it becomes ecologically extinct. Well, we certainly can’t count on this applying to bluefin tuna. There looks to be interest in hunting this spectacular species – which can swim almost 45 miles per hour and weigh up to 1,500 pounds -- right into extinction.
Bluefin Tuna ©Antonio Medina Guerrero, U 1
Atlantic bluefin tuna are particularly at risk. According to scientists for the relevant international management body, Atlantic bluefin tuna populations are at no more than 15 percent of their historic baseline. And, there is good reason to believe that even this assessment is far too rosy. Soon-to-be published studies are expected to show current levels of fishing will lead to the extinction of the western population of Atlantic bluefin within 10 years and that the decline in the eastern population between 2005 and 2011 may reach 75%.
What can we do to save Atlantic bluefin? Monaco has proposed to list Atlantic bluefin tuna in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The U.S. needs to support Monaco’s pending listing proposal vigorously. Also, the U.S. needs to abandon its proposal to loosen restrictions on Atlantic bluefin catch off our shores (the fish has become so rare that U.S. fishermen have been unable to catch the full quota assigned to them under international treaty). Finally, we need to stop allowing the catch of Atlantic bluefin in their spawning area in the Gulf of Mexico, the only known spawning site this side of the Atlantic.