Bluefin tuna face an uncertain future

Posted by: Elizabeth Maksymonko

The Atlantic bluefin tuna is an amazing animal: on average, it grows to 6.5 feet long (though it can grow much larger), weighs 550 pounds and is one of the fastest fish in the world. Their size, speed and beauty as apex predators have created awe-struck wonder for thousands of years. Unfortunately for the bluefin, however, they are also sought for their value as one of the most lucrative in the fishing industry. Bluefin have been fished to the brink of extinction, reduced by 80% since 1970 largely because they are prized for sushi and sashimi dishes.

The International Commission for the Conservation of Tuna, or ICCAT, has been charged with protecting the bluefin, though historically, they seem to treat their role as protecting bluefin fishermen. It’s easy to be cynical when looking at the ICCAT, but there was some hope going into this month’s meetings.  Earlier this year, major tuna industry countries such as Japan, Spain, Italy and France successfully deflected an attempt to have bluefin listed on CITES Appendix I (thus banning international trade) by promising to work on reductions at the ICCAT meetings.  The ICCAT scientists proposed and the U.S. backed a sustainable quota of 6,000 tons on Atlantic bluefin tuna. However, it was the same old story on Saturday, when the commission set 2011 catch quotas of 12,900 tons and 1,750 tons for the two stocks of bluefin tuna: the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean stock and the western Atlantic stock. These levels represent small reductions from the 2010 quotas of 13,500 and 1,800 tons.

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This highlights the greed and mismanagement that is running rampant in the bluefin commercial fishing industry today. On top of the legal fishing trade that is already making bluefin numbers plummet, there is a huge black market for the tuna that is worth several billion dollars. As if that wasn’t enough to spell doom for the bluefin, this year, bluefin were even more threatened by the Gulf oil spill, which occurred in one of the two bluefin spawning areas, at the same time of year the bluefin come to spawn.

It seems the bluefin tuna might be one of the unluckiest fish in the sea. Unfortunately, this is mostly because over many years, ICCAT and CITES have continually been unable to adequately protect the bluefin because of the member countries’ conflicts of interest. At the aforementioned the CITES meeting, a chance to curb bluefin trade failed when, in part, Japan claimed that the only appropriate place to discuss the issue was ICCAT. However, despite Japan, U.S., Canada, the EU and Norway promising to adopt sustainable fisheries management after the CITES meeting, ICCAT once again failed the bluefin. This is in keeping with its four-decade history of focusing on short-term business interests over long-term sustainability.  Since 1981, the committee has consistently set fishing quotas far higher than their own scientists’ recommendations. During this time, mismanagement and fraud have been found to be running rampant through the ICCAT and much of its member countries’ fisheries. It makes no sense to let the fox guard the hen house by allowing the countries with the most interest in furthering the bluefin trade to decide its fate. If we continue fishing at the ICCAT’s present quota, humans will drive the bluefin to extinction, perhaps sooner than we think. We can’t let greed win out over sustainability and common sense, for both the bluefin’s sake and ours.

Date Posted: December 6, 2010 @ 12:43 pm Comments (2)