Bluefin tuna, now considered a candidate species, are going to be reviewed by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). If the NMFS decides in favor of protecting the vulnerable bluefin tuna, then the fish will be placed on the endangered species list. Their decision should be reached by Spring of 2011.
If the marine service says a listing is warranted, then they will file a 12 month review as a proposal to give the fish endangered protection. During the year-long period, public comments are accepted and any new information about the species in question is collected.
The Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition to protect bluefin tuna last May, due to overfishing and habitat degradation. Their habitat in the Gulf of Mexico was damaged by the British Petroleum oil disaster, and their numbers are already at low levels.
Catherine Kilduff, an attorney for the center said, “Unfortunately, tuna epitomize the precarious position of many Gulf of Mexico species. Tuna were already on the brink of extinction before the oil spill from severe overfishing; then the spill drowned their breeding grounds in oil during spawning season.” (Source: Center for Biological Diversity)
The Gulf of Mexico is a breeding ground for the Western population of bluefin tuna. Another population lives in the Mediterranean. Both are in severe decline. Since 1955, the bluefin tuna population has decreased by about 70-80 percent. About three-fourths of the world’s catch goes to Japan.
New England fisherman are upset with the decision, saying it will reduce their incomes since they have fewer fish species to catch due to government regulations. Their view is undermined by scientific research showing the quality of the Maine tuna has already declined significantly, “Good quality fish, …now comprise less than one percent of the commercial catch at this New Hampshire cooperative.” (Source: Sciencedaily.com) The population is already at such a low level, the tuna need to be given time to recover, if they can at all.
A recreational fishing cottage industry exists to support enthusiasts who want a chance at hooking, fighting and catching one of the very powerful large fish. The hunter mentality, that wild animals exist for humans to enjoy catching and killing, could be moving towards its inevitable end, however. As many predators are in such declines, there may not be any left if trends continue.
The main threat to bluefin tuna is the tremendous sushi demand. A single fish sold in Japan for well over $100,000. Such high prices are predictably encouraging a very determined and organized fishing industry, whether the catches are legal or not.
Because of their threatened status, it is best to avoid eating bluefin tuna.
If you want to do your part to try and help the bluefin tuna recover, don’t ever eat them, and tell anyone you know to avoid eating them too.
Image Credit: Osaka Museum