An analysis of eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna trade data released Oct. 18 shows that harvests of the imperiled tuna are more than double the legal amount. This calls into question the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) June decision, responding to a Center for Biological Diversity petition, that found bluefin were not endangered as long as there is a high degree of compliance with total allowable catch levels.
“Illegal fishing is rapidly pushing eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna to the brink of extinction. Rather than turn a blind eye to this ongoing crisis, the fisheries service needs to give this dwindling species the protection it needs to survive,” said Catherine Kilduff, a center staff attorney. “Endangered Species Act protections are necessary to stop U.S. imports from the Mediterranean and begin rebuilding this population, crucial to the health of the Atlantic Ocean and our fisheries.”
The Pew Environment Group report found that in 2010, the amount traded on the global market was 141 percent above allowable catch levels (32,564.9 metric tons). That doesn’t include black market bluefin missing from trade records. Discounting illegal fishing, the NMFS denial of listing for the bluefin determined that a 5 percent probability of extinction in 20 years is a reasonable threshold for endangered status. At catch levels of 30,000 metric tons, there is an 8.5 percent probability that less than 500 adult bluefin tuna will survive in 2030.
Highly migratory, warm-blooded fish, Atlantic bluefin tuna include two genetically distinct populations, one that spawns in the Mediterranean (the eastern Atlantic stock) and a much smaller population that spawns in the Gulf of Mexico (the western Atlantic stock). New analysis of the eastern Atlantic stock has implications for both stocks because of cross-Atlantic mixing. Capable of speeds higher than 55 mph, bluefin tuna from the Mediterranean traverse the ocean in a matter of weeks as early as age one. Overfishing means that fewer Mediterranean tuna reach U.S. waters.
“Skyrocketing consumer demand for bluefin tuna has driven overfishing and lax enforcement of international agreements,” said Kilduff. “After years of recognizing the problem, but not implementing a solution, the international community must ban trade until bluefin tuna populations rebuild.”
In August 2011 the center requested that the U.S. propose Atlantic bluefin tuna for protection under Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the major international treaty on endangered species. CITES protection would ban cross-border trade in Atlantic bluefin, potentially improving compliance with catch limits. The next CITES meeting will occur in 2013.
In response to the decline of the bluefin, the center last year launched a nationwide boycott of bluefin tuna (visit bluefinboycott.org for more information). More than 25,000 people have joined the center’s campaign and pledged not to eat at restaurants serving bluefin tuna. Dozens of chefs and owners of seafood and sushi restaurants have pledged not to sell bluefin.
According to a McKinsey & Company report released last month, current bluefin harvesting levels are projected to drive the eastern Atlantic fishery to collapse between 2012 and 2015. If illegal and unreported fishing could be 100 percent eliminated, the fishery could recover by 2023. But impressively, if the fishery were to be completely closed, according to the report, it would recover within eight years.
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For more information about the center’s campaign to save the Atlantic bluefin tuna, click here.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 320,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.