Pacific bluefin tuna may get endangered species status

A rampant black market and lax regulations are quickly leading to the demise of the eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna.
Overfishing is pushing bluefin tuna toward extinction.

Unsustainable fishing is pushing the species to the brink of oblivion

Staff Report

Federal regulators are one step closer to putting Pacific bluefin tuna on the endangered species list, as humankind’s insatiable appetite for resources drives the fish to the edge of extinction. The announcement by the National Marine Fisheries Service came in response to a petition filed by conservation groups, who say bluefin tuna populations have declined by about 97 percent since the advent of industrial fishing operations.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, the United States and other countries have failed to reduce fishing enough to protect the iconic species, a luxury item on sushi menus. One recent study found bluefin and other large marine organisms are particularly vulnerable to the current mass extinction event; their loss would disrupt the ocean food web in unprecedented ways, and they need more protection to survive.

“This is good news for bluefin tuna, which are headed for extinction without more protection. The Endangered Species Act is a powerful tool for bringing vulnerable species back from the brink, and we hope the Fisheries Service gives these magnificent fish the help they need,” said Catherine Kilduff of the Center for Biological Diversity. “We have to find ways to limit overfishing and protect important habitat or we may see the last Pacific bluefin tuna sold off and lost to extinction.”

“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.”

Almost all Pacific bluefin tuna harvested today are caught before reproducing, putting in doubt their future as a species. 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.

“Consider this: Bluefin tuna takes up to a decade to mature and reproduce, but many are caught and sold as juveniles, compromising the repopulation and viability of the species. In the last 50 years, technological acumen has enabled us to kill over 90 percent of tuna and other species,” said Dr. Sylvia Earle, National Geographic explorer-in-residence and founder of Mission Blue. “When one species is fished out, we move on to the next, which is not good for the ocean and not good for us.”

Repeated meetings of international fisheries commissions that set catch levels for the species have failed to come up with any meaningful conservation measures. It remains to be seen whether the potential listing will put pressure on the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, which will meet later this month to discuss Pacific bluefin.

“Pacific bluefin are endangered because the people responsible for fisheries management acted irresponsibly,” said Carl Safina, founding president of The Safina Center. “Their irresponsibility means that others must now step in and fix the problem.”

The coalition advocating for the species includes 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.

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