The Bluefin Tuna
Atlantic Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus thynnus) has been under the spotlight for a considerable amount of time. It is highly prized for its fatty belly meat and for the thrill of catching truly massive fish. In March 2010, a coalition of nations tried to get a ban on Atlantic Bluefin Tuna approved of by the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES); the United States was one of the nations supporting the resolution. This ban would have put the Bluefin in the same ranks as tigers and elephants. Unfortunately, the ban was rejected on the basis that the International Commission on the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), an intergovernmental council enacted to manage tunas, ultimately has jurisdiction on the Bluefin’s management and not CITES.
A Change of Mind?
Recently, NOAA was petitioned by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) to consider putting the Bluefin on the endangered species list. This was partially in response to the Deepwater Horizon Disaster. Unfortunately for the western stock of the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna, they spawn pretty close, spatially and temporally, to the Deepwater Disaster. So, it comes as a shock that in May 2011, when NOAA declared that the Bluefin does not deserve protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). WAIT! I am slightly confused. Fourteen months before the ruling by NOAA on the ESA, the United States backed a proposal that would have banned fishing and trading of Bluefins under CITES. Is this a case of abrupt shifting of priorities by the government or was the initial push for a CITES ban purely political? I am in no position to judge the motives of the government, but such a contradiction makes my head spin.
The Future of the Bluefin
Unfortunately for the Bluefin, the future looks bleak. Illegal poaching underreports the actual tonnage removed from the ocean and as a result the quotas are based on inaccurate data that assumes there are more fish in the ocean than actually are. In addition, the method known as tuna ranching remove sexually immature individuals from the wild breeding stock. After only about 50 years of intense fishing pressure since the dawn of the industrialized fishing era, the stocks have declined dramatically. The decimated stocks and continued fishing pressure coupled with unsustainable quotas set by ICCAT make the Bluefin an ideal candidate for either a CITES ban or protection by the ESA. Although protection by the ESA would have only protected the Bluefin here in the U.S. while the rest of the whole would have continued to fish. The sad reality is that no protective measures will be placed on Bluefin until the stocks crash.
Thoughts of a Frustrated Scientist!
As my thoughts reel in my head about the unrelenting assault on the Bluefin Tuna, I think about the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, made famous by Animal Planet’s show: Whale Wars. Their current campaign is against Bluefin poachers in the Mediterranean Sea. My initial reaction to the show several years ago was one of disgust with their audacity and obvious pretense of moral superiority. But now, a few years later, I feel like my reaction was not really disgust but envy. I envy these people who put their ideology to the test and have the guts to take a stand for something they know is a just cause. I used to think that the Sea Shepherds could never have an effect on the fisheries they were harassing. However, I realize that the fact that they are getting publicity for the despicable actions by some fishermen is justification for their actions. Because knowledge is power and more people need to realize that the oceans are under constant assault and need protection. I love the Sea Shepherds’ cause; I hate the show.