Oceans: Pacific bluefin tuna on the brink as feds seek input on new fishing regulations

Even the imminent decimation of tuna populations hasn’t stopped sport fishermen from harvesting the desirable fish in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere. bberwyn photo.

Not enough adults left to replenish populations

Staff Report

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FRISCO — Pacific bluefin tuna won’t last long at any sustainable level without immediate and drastic intervention by fisheries managers, according to ocean advocates who are urging the federal government to adopt strict limits on bluefin tuna catch.

Overall, many tuna populations are on the brink of collapse. Five of eight tuna species have been assigned threatened or near-threatened status on the international Red List maintained by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

In the Gulf of Mexico, for example, the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster spewed millions of gallons of oil into the species’ prime breeding grounds, and a 2010 report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists showed how illegal fishing and inadequate enforcement are decimating tuna stocks all over the world.

Last week, the National Marine Fisheries Service opened a public process today to determine whether to prohibit fishing for Pacific bluefin tuna, in response to a petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity.

Most of the bluefin tuna caught along the West Coast are juveniles. Scientists have warned that the remaining population of adult bluefin tuna is nearing the end of its life, and not enough young fish have escaped hooks and nets to replace them. Pacific bluefin tuna spawn in the western Pacific, near Japan, and some migrate to the California current as juveniles to feed on anchovy, herring and red crab. Once in the eastern Pacific Ocean, the bluefin tuna stay for a few years before going back to spawn off Japan.

In 1988 U.S. commercial nets caught an estimated 987 adult bluefin tuna off Southern California, including one that broke California records at more than 1,000 pounds and nearly 9 feet in length. Now 90 percent of the worldwide catch of Pacific bluefin tuna is less than 2 years old and under 3 feet long.

The Pacific bluefin population’s historic low triggered a requirement for new regulations to better manage overfishing by April 8, 2014, but regulators thus far have declined to take any steps to help the fish. Today’s request for comments is the federal government’s first step to spur action from the Pacific Fishery Management Council.

“This initiation of this important process provides a glimmer of hope in a sea of bleak news for Pacific bluefin tuna,” said Center Attorney Catherine Kilduff. “Saving Pacific bluefin tuna from the world’s insatiable appetite for sushi requires action at all levels, starting with protection in U.S. waters.”

In today’s notice the Fisheries Service considers adding Pacific bluefin tuna to a list of imperiled species that must be released immediately if caught. That list includes great white sharks and other species vulnerable to steep declines from fishing. U.S. sport-fishery landings now dominate American catches of Pacific bluefin tuna, eclipsing the once-vibrant U.S. commercial fishery.

Last week Mexico prohibited commercial and recreational fishing for bluefin tuna for the remainder of 2014 after countries’ collective catch reached the international 5,000-metric-ton limit for bluefin tuna. Fishing continues in U.S. waters because of exemptions negotiated by the U.S. delegation to the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission. This month’s meeting of the commission failed to set future catch limits after the United States, Mexico, Japan, Korea and Chinese-Taipei could not agree on reductions.

“Even when faced with the complete destruction of the fishery, bluefin tuna fishing countries continue to have a Gold Rush mentality,” said Center Attorney Catherine Kilduff. “Extinction looms too large to let U.S. fishery managers off the hook when negotiating behind closed doors. Prohibiting Pacific bluefin tuna catch on the West Coast will galvanize fishermen and conservationists alike to bring bluefin back to healthy levels.”



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