“One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, No Fish”

Jennifer Church

This Monday, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), the international body that sets annual tuna fishing limits, announced a reduction in the fishing quota of the Bluefin Tuna.  However, most scientists agree that the reduction does not go far enough to save bluefin tuna from near extinction. The EU, US and Japan have decided to limit the 2010 catch quotas to 13,500 tons.  Catches were lowered from 28,500 tons to 22,000 this year. Scientists say that is still 7,000 tons over what they would advise.

A single bluefin tuna can sell for $100,000 and is traditionally used for sashimi.  Overall, it’s a billion dollar global business that is driven by an appetite for tuna, especially in Japan.  The bluefin population is less than a fifth of what it was in the 1970s, making it one of the most threatened fish in the sea.  Illegal overharvesting is the main cause of the bluefin’s sharp population decline.  Many scientists urged the ICCAT to accept nothing less than a fishing quota of zero, however the commission has never reduced the allowable catch by as much as scientists recommended (See the blog post written last year regarding this very issue.)  Now many fear the species is inevitably headed toward extinction.

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What Price Sushi? Tuna on the Brink

3bluefin_tunaThe bluefin tuna can go from 0 to 60 mph in 5 seconds. Underwater.  One of the top predators in the ocean, the fish can grow to 10 feet in length and weigh 1500 pounds.  It also makes really good sushi — dead bluefin can sell for over $100,000.  Consequently, it has been fished to the brink of extinction; the population of Atlantic bluefin has plunged by 80 – 90% since the 1970s.

Scientists have been telling the International Commission for the Conservation of  Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) for years that its allowable quota is way too high and that it must lower the maximum catch to under 15,000 tons per year.  Unfortunately, ICCAT has yet to listen.  The quota for this season is 47 percent above scientists’ recommendations, although ICCAT has declared it a recovery plan. Which makes it all that much more disturbing that Turkey has decided to ignore ICCAT’s already inadequate quotas and fish themselves silly. Turkey has the largest bluefin fishing fleet in the Mediterranean.

While it is not illegal to catch or sell bluefin, this results from inadequate international will rather than any abundance of fish.  The tuna is critically endangered and disappearing fast.  It would be nice if governments rallied around it the way they do for whales and sea turtles.  Nicer still would be if restaurants like Nobu (owned by Robert DeNiro and Nobu Matsuhisa) stopped serving it. As Willie Mackenzie of Greenpeace UK observes, “Eating bluefin tuna is as bad as digging into a tiger steak or gorilla burger.  It is entirely unacceptable that Nobu, or any restaurant, is serving an endangered species, and it must stop immediately if the species is to be saved from extinction.”

Nicest of all, though, would be if people just stopped eating it.

–David Cassuto