Posted by: carlsafina | Friday, June 15 07

Bye-Bye Bluefin

The Bluefin Tuna, that magnificent thousand-pound-plus, ocean-crossing, warm-blooded fish, is headed toward extinction in the western part of the Atlantic Ocean, that is, off the east coast and in the Gulf of Mexico. And this week the European Union agreed to what amounts to a plan for its collapse in the east Atlantic and Mediterranean.

The fishery managers call it a recovery plan.

Bluefin Tuna fishery managers live in Opposite Land. Opposite #1 is: “recovery plan” really means the fishery managers have agreed to an excessive quota that will lead to deepening depletion.

Bluefin Tuna fishing in the Atlantic is ostensibly managed by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas. Thanks to this Commission, virtually every tuna, shark, and marlin species in the Atlantic is at all-time low numbers. This “conservation” Commission does not conserve; it does the opposite.

Its record with Bluefin Tuna is its worst. Its fishing quotas have always been far too high. And many of its 40-plus member nations routinely fish well past even these excessive quotas. Way back in 1982, the Commission enacted a “30-year recovery plan” for the west Atlantic. In 1998 the Commission came up with a new “20-year recovery plan” because, deep into the 30-year recovery period, west-Atlantic Bluefin were at an all-time low. The new recovery plan included several increases in the allowed catch. Now, the fish are so depleted that in 2006, U.S. commercial fishers caught only about ten percent of the allowed catch. Not that they weren’t trying; in 2001 a 444-pound bluefin tuna sold wholesale in Japan for $173,600. These insane prices result in such political pressure to avoid effective catch limits that managers do exactly the opposite of what they should do, and say the opposite of what they’re doing.

In the east Atlantic and Mediterranean, Bluefin fishing is largely out of control. Quotas are far above what scientists are recommending, and the numbers of fish killed are far above the quotas. So this week, after some tough talk by the European Union’s fisheries commissioner about the need to put a moratorium on fishing for Bluefin, he brokered the following deal that implements recommendations of the 43-member-nation tuna Commission: after scientists advised a catch limit of 15,000 tons, the agreed catch limit will be almost exactly twice that much. The European Union’s share of that catch will increase from 9,000 tons this year to 16,000 tons (source: Charles Clover, Daily Telegraph 6-12-07). Like I said, they live in Opposite Land. They’re calling it: the recovery plan.

Of course, it’s not a recovery plan, it’s a collapse plan. On our side of the ocean, the collapse is already upon the Bluefin because the Atlantic Tuna Commission and national fishery managers have always bowed to the same greed and political pressure to feed the same insatiable Japanese sushi market. The Bluefin of the east Atlantic and Mediterranean will likely follow. It may be poetic justice that the greed of fishers in the western Atlantic is turning to bankruptcy, and it will be a form of justice that this will likely happen in the east. But it seems there is no justice for the Bluefin itself, a magnificent animal whose only fault was to excel every other fish in the sea.

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Responses

  1. Well, its because scientists are so conservative right?? They are over-protective, so therefore if scientists says 15,000 then obviously twice that is certainly ok… (note sarcasm).

    Hey, its the bluefin’s fault its so tasty.

  2. Most everything I ever read about ICCAT is hopeless. Is it true international policy trumps domestic policy? If so, I can’t believe European and Japanese policy makers are dictating the fate of North American bluefin populations. That wouldn’t be right.

  3. Bye-Bye-Bluefin: What’s going on??!!: “Bluefin Tuna fishing in the Atlantic is ostensibly managed by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas. Thanks to this Commission, virtually every tuna, shark, and marlin species in the Atlantic is at all-time low numbers. This ‘conservation’ Commission does not conserve; it does the opposite.”
    So at odds with the World Conservation Union??!!–Safina’s Blue Ocean Institute’s excellent Guide to Ocean Friendly Seafood (free, via Internet) relates: “Since 1996, the World Conservation Union has listed the western population of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna as critically endangered and the eastern population as endangered.” Shockingly different from ICCAT!

    Well?…I am reading Carl Safina’s book Song for the Blue Ocean, in which it is all excellently put forth, such fine, clear, incisive writing it is hard to choose, but I quote the pith in this, page 34: Safina quotes Tim Voorheis, a bluefin spotter pilot working for a fishing team whose lead man is an officer of the East Coast Tuna Association: “Tim says, ‘To me, the giant bluefin tuna is a symbol of all that is great in the world, every living creature. To me it’s the most magnificent creature on earth, maybe even more so than man himself.’ Dave Linnney [crew member] says, ‘There’s another half to this. My daughter goes to college on tuna fish money. It’s very important to me.'”

    Well? Carl Safina is to be thanked for all he is doing to clarify and educate–his book Song for the Blue Ocean has been translated to Japanese, to be read where the demand for bluefin is trouble, yes–“Now, the fish are so depleted that in 2006, U.S. commercial fishers caught only about ten percent of the allowed catch. Not that they weren’t trying; in 2001 a 444-pound bluefin tuna sold wholesale in Japan for $173,600.” The price in 2007? Guess!
    I have lived in Japan for 35 years, seen the economy rise and fall. There’s a widening divide in a society that has until recently considered itself to be generally all “middle class.” Now: an increase of rich vs those pinching to meet costs. The rich do buy and eat the best part of the best bluefin, the fatty “toro”–whereas the best sushi–jo-nigiri–is for the average shopper a packaged set of 10 or fewer little patties of vinegared rice each topped with a different sliver of raw seafood, only one of which will be tuna: less than 6 cm x 3 cm x 1/2 cm! However, the population is as much as half that of the U.S.A., and still largely fish-eating–though the idea of thick tuna steaks on the grill is, uh, largely out of the quesiton. (available variety of other edible, smaller, unendangered fish: huge.)
    When I introduce wherever I can what I have learned from Carl Safina, I hear “Ah, so ka?! Is it that bad? I had no idea!” In the work of Safina and in his contagious appreciation for the bluefin and all other endangered marine animals, there is hope–and tremendous thanks ongoing.

  4. You are all wrong there are plenty of southern bluefin tuna around Portland Bay (Australia) just ask the recreation trophy fishermen – !!!!!!!!

    • This is typical of this kind of comment. There are a lot of fish in one place. The fact that there used to be a lot of fish in many, many places gets lost on those whose view is only local. And the greater the number of exclamation points, the smaller the person’s overall understanding of the big picture usually seems to be. That’s been my experience, anyway. “There are plenty of fish here” just isn’t a refutation of 30 years of science and monitoring ocean-wide. Sorry.


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