Endangered species status sought for bluefin tuna

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Pacific bluefin tuna are on the brink of extinction, according to conservation groups seeking to list the fish on the endangered species list. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Over-fishing threatens species with extinction

Staff Report

The bluefin tuna population in the Pacific Ocean has dropped so low that a coalition of conservation groups have petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service to protect the species under the Endangered Species Act.

According to the petition, the population has declined more than 97 percent since fishing began, largely because countries have failed to reduce fishing enough to protect the iconic species, a luxury item on sushi menus.

“Without help, we may see the last Pacific bluefin tuna sold off and lost to extinction,” said Catherine Kilduff of the Center for Biological Diversity. “New tagging research has shed light on the mysteries of where majestic bluefin tuna reproduce and migrate, so we can help save this important species. Protecting this incredible fish under the Endangered Species Act is the last hope, because fisheries management has failed to keep them off the path toward extinction.”

Petitioners requesting that the Fisheries Service list Pacific bluefin tuna as endangered include the Center for Biological Diversity, The Ocean Foundation, Earthjustice, Center for Food Safety, Defenders of Wildlife, Greenpeace, Mission Blue, Recirculating Farms Coalition, The Safina Center, SandyHook SeaLife Foundation, Sierra Club, Turtle Island Restoration Network and WildEarth Guardians, as well as sustainable-seafood purveyor Jim Chambers.

“This beautiful, high-performance migratory predator is critical to ecosystem balance in the ocean,” said Mark Spalding, president of The Ocean Foundation. “Unfortunately, these fish have no place to hide from mankind’s high-tech, long-distance, big-net fishing fleets. It is not a fair fight, and so the Pacific bluefin tuna is losing.”

Intensifying the pressure on the population, almost all Pacific bluefin tuna harvested today are caught before reproducing. In 2014 the Pacific Bluefin tuna population produced the second-lowest number of young fish seen since 1952. Just a few adult age classes of Pacific bluefin tuna exist, and these will soon disappear due to old age. Without young fish to mature into the spawning stock to replace the aging adults, the future is grim for Pacific bluefin unless immediate steps are taken to halt this decline.

“Feeding the insatiable global sushi market has caused Pacific bluefin tuna to decline by 97 percent,” said Phil Kline, senior oceans campaigner at Greenpeace. “With the Pacific bluefin now facing extinction not only is an endangered listing warranted, it’s long overdue. The tuna need all the protection we can give them.”

Starting Monday, June 27 in La Jolla, Calif., countries will negotiate future catch reductions for Pacific bluefin tuna at the meeting of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission. All signs point to the Commission opting to maintain the status quo, which is insufficient to end overfishing, let alone promote a recovery to healthy levels.

“Listing the Pacific Bluefin tuna as an endangered species will allow countless juvenile fish to reach maturity, thereby helping to rebuild this depleted fishery. The bigger challenge is, of course, to control unregulated and illegal fishing in international waters, an issue that must be addressed worldwide,” said Mary M. Hamilton of SandyHook SeaLife Foundation.

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