Overfishing Hooks the World’s Most Expensive Fish: The Bluefin Tuna
January 17, 2013
Early this year, a Pacific Bluefin Tuna sold for a mind-blowing 1.76 million dollars at a Tokyo auction. The 489 pound whopper was purchased to satiate the hoards of sushi and sashimi lovers populating the city.
But soon, according to a recent stock assessment, Pacific Bluefin Tuna may not be salable at any price.
Last week, the International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-Like Species in the Pacific Ocean published a report analyzing Bluefin populations since the 1950’s. The trend doesn’t look good - the population has been dwindling overall, and the Pew Environmental Group reports that the Bluefin population has now declined a full 96.4% from unfished levels.
“It’s a severely depleted species,” says Shana Miller, Science Advisor to the Pew Environmental Group. “And to make it worse, there’s been little to no management.”
As Miller suggests, the decline has a logical basis. Bluefins have been increasingly fished as demand for sushi has risen. They also have not been protected; in fact, the first ever catch limit on the species was put in place this past summer, and only affects Bluefins in the eastern Pacific.
Environmentalists are concerned that if current fishing practices continue, the Bluefins will be in jeopardy. But one aspect of the stock assessment looks promising: While adult populations have been declining steadily, the numbers of new, young fish have remained relatively consistent over the years. If catch limits are enforced and spawning waters are protected, it’s a good bet that the Bluefin will recover.
“Pew is advocating the suspension of the fishery until management measures are in place,” says Miller. “We need science-based catch limits, and minimum size limits to protect juveniles.”
While Miller admits that it is unlikely that the entire Bluefin fishery will actually be suspended, she is still optimistic. The annual meetings of the groups that monitor Bluefin populations will occur over the next year; if both groups take preventative action, the Bluefin will have a fighting chance.