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 Continue reading “Spotlight: bluefin tuna on the verge”

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Today’s Gulf sea turtle – Hawksbill

As The Baltimore Sun’s Candus Thomson notesall five species of sea turtles found in the Gulf are listed under the Endangered Species Act (this was pre-oil leak). We’re looking at fast facts about these species – this week, it’s the Hawksbill:

Hawksbill Sea Turtle
(Eretmochelys imbricata)

  • listed by US as a critically endangered species since 1970
  • average adult size is 2 1/2 feet and 95 to 165 pounds
  • adults feed mostly on sponges and other invertebrates
  • can live to be roughly 50 years old
  • named for unique hooked beak
  • females nest April through November, and typically not in groups
  • females can nest faster than any other sea turtles – can complete the entire process in less than 45 minutes
  • primary nesting areas in the US are in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Florida’s SE coast and the Keys
  • global populations have declined 80% or more in past century

The Hawksbill sea turtle’s dramatic population decline is due to a variety of causes – habitat degradation, artificial lighting along beaches, marine pollution and debris, incidental take by commercial fishing operations, egg collection and hunting of adults for meat.

Another significant factor in the Hawksbills’ decline is trade in their lovely carapaces – primarily for “tortoiseshell” jewelry.

Legal trade in Hawksbill shell trade ended when Japan agreed to stop importing shell in 1993, but a significant illegal trade continues. Trade in Hawksbills and products made from them is prohibited by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).

Photo credits: Top photo courtesy Thomas Doeppner; bottom photo by Caroline Rogers, USGS