Save the bluefin tuna

The prospect of an overfished ocean is a truly scary thing and could be a reality. What we once thought was an inexhaustible resource has fallen to the overconsumption and greed that unfortunately isn’t too uncommon for humans. The oceans are being abused, and everything from sharks and sea turtles to dolphins and humans will feel the effects. However, possibly the worst effects can be seen in current bluefin tuna overfishing practices.



Meet the bluefin tuna, while you still can

In the past few years, bluefin tuna numbers have decreased 97% and are continuing to decline. At this rate, we will most likely have to say goodbye to tuna by 2050, if not before. Loss of sushi aside, bluefins are pretty rad. They can swim up to 40 miles per hour. Reportedly, they can cross the Atlantic ocean in less than two weeks. Unlike most fish, they are warm blooded. They can be over 1,500 lbs and 12 feet long. They are endangered, and unfortunately for them, they are delicious.

Similar to lobster, tuna was once seen as a poor man’s food. All that changed commercial fishing techniques started in the early 1960’s and the blue tuna decline began. Today, with tuna netting up to one million dollars, it is certainly not for the impoverished anymore and has turned into a huge business.

IUU (Illegal, unreported and unregulated) fishing

With the demand and prices for tuna so high, it’s not hard to see why some fisheries would turn to illegal or immoral practices of obtaining their catch. Even with limited fishing regulations in place, the practice of bluefin tuna overfishing unfortunately still thrives. Although possibly the most notable to our sushi meals, tuna are far from the only victims of the overfishing trend. Drift nets and longline fishing snag sea turtles, sharks and any other bycatch in its wake.

IUU (Illegal, unreported and unregulated) fishing techniques are on the rise. It is difficult to have exact figures (since it is unreported) but it is estimated that it costs legal fisheries 10-23.5 billion USD annually. With tuna as an endangered species, CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) has the ability to stop these illegal practices. Their efforts stopped before they began after being met with strong lobbying from Japan, the biggest consumer of sushi.

When asked by WWF to reduce the quota of bluefin catch in 2011, ICCAT (the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas) responded tepidly. ICCAT dropped the fishing quota from 13,500 tons to 12,900 tons, far away from the prescribed 6,000.

Farmed Fishing Isn’t the Answer.

In an effort to prevent losing these big sea titans, some organizations are starting to farm fish such as tuna. However, in order to farm the tuna they must be fed hundreds or even thousands of pounds of baitfish like sardines and smelt, making the entire process remarkably counter-productive.

In his outstanding book, Four Fish, author Paul Greenberg makes a strong correlation between the current tuna fishing epidemic to that of pre-1970’s whale hunting. Although practically unfathomable today, not too long ago, whales were hunted for everything from “fertilizers, lipstick, brake fluid, and even human food.”. According to Greenberg, if a handful of activists and scientists were able to change the entire public perception of whales from “just big fish” to the beautiful, protected animals that we consider them today, could the same thing be true for tuna? Are we able to sway the court of public opinion and vouch for tuna’s stay of execution?

This video, although a bit dated, provides some great insight on bluefin tuna.
Lead Image courtesy of Julian Svoboda at Unsplash. It is totally noted that the fish pictured aren’t bluefin tuna