Spotlight: bluefin tuna on the verge

Photo by Tom Puchner

Growing up to 10 feet long and up to 1,400 pounds, with retractable fins and a bullet-shaped body for faster speed, bluefin tuna are among the largest, fastest , most wondrous migratory finfish in the world. They’re also one of the most prized and pricey fish for sushi lovers around the globe.

Thanks to booming consumer demand and overfishing in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, bluefin tuna stocks have plummeted to what scientists and researchers say is the point of collapse. It’s been a quick trip to decimation for this species — bluefin tuna wasn’t fished much commercially until the 1950s, and was so unpopular as late as the 1970s that it was often just bothersome bycatch sold for pet food.

The group that sets bluefin tuna fishing quotas,  ICCAT, is holding its annual meetings next week. Advocacy groups, scientists and others are pushing for drastic cuts in the quotas.

Meanwhile, as Scientific American reports, the tiny Mediterranean principality of Monaco has submitted a formal bid to the UN under CITES, asking that bluefin tuna be declared ‘threatened’. In its bid, Monegasque officials stated “… the failure of [ICCAT’s] management measures is demonstrated by the continuously decreasing population.” If Monaco’s bid passes a vote, it could lead to drastic changes in the bluefin tuna fisheries — and could end tuna ranching, a curious practice in the Mediterranean where tuna are brought to pens in the middle of the sea and fattened before being sent to market:

The ICIJ (Int’l. Consortium of Investigative Journalists) has recently released its investigation of the bluefin tuna fishing industry in the Mediterranean. The report’s upshot? There has been rampant corruption, fraud, and a thriving black market for the Mediterranean’s bluefin tuna catch.

Perhaps not so surprising — it’s a multibillion dollar industry with high global demand, particularly in Japan and the US.


Web resources:

Looting the Seas – ICIJ investigative report

NOAA’s Atlantic bluefin page

Protect Bluefin Globally – Pew Charitable Trusts bluefin tuna page

Save the Bluefin – social networking meets tuna conservation

WWF’s bluefin tuna page

Take action:

Greenpeace bluefin tuna campaign

Oceana “Going Fast” bluefin tuna campaign

Pew Center on the Environment “Protect This Remarkable Fish” campaign


Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food, by Paul Greenberg

Tuna: A Love Story, by Richard Ellis

The End of the Line: How Overfishing is Changing the World and What We Eat, by Charles Clover

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