On Wednesday, The fisheries division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that it’s considering a ban on recreational and commercial fishing of Pacific bluefin tuna. After years of large-scale fishing and rising demand in the sushi industry it is estimated that as few as 40,000 adult Pacific bluefin tuna remain in the wild, around four percent of the fish’s historic average.
With catches dropping dramatically recently and up to 90 percent of those caught qualifying as juveniles, this initial step by the federal government could result in the fish being added to the list of imperiled species that must be released immediately if caught.
“The initiation of this important process provides a glimmer of hope in a sea of bleak news for Pacific bluefin tuna,” said Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) Attorney Catherine Kilduff. “Saving Pacific bluefin tuna from the world’s insatiable appetite for sushi requires action at all levels, starting with protection in U.S. waters.”
The CBD was involved in petitioning NOAA in April to amend their rules to consider putting the Pacific bluefin tuna on the list of imperiled species. The Atlantic and southern bluefin tuna — the other two types of bluefin — are already endangered. Until a recent assessment the Pacific bluefin was listed as “least concern.”
Bluefin tuna can grow up to 10 feet long, weigh up to 1,000 pounds, and live for over two decades. They migrate across entire oceans at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour. They are also warm-blooded and able to regulate their body temperature. Pacific bluefin spawn in the western Pacific off the coast of Japan before swimming east to feed off smaller fish along the American coastline.
Pacific bluefin regularly sell for thousands of dollars and can go for much more. A 500-pound bluefin recently sold in Toyko for about $70,000. Prices have reached $1.76 million for a single fish. Around 90 percent of the Pacific bluefin catch is consumed in Japan.
As the NOAA considers banning Pacific Bluefin fishing, last week the global authority on tuna fish, the Inter American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC), decided to delay discussions on fishing quotas until October after Japan, Korea, Mexico, and the U.S. could not agree on conservation measures. The WWF and the EU both expressed disappointment with the decision.
“The IATTC failed to adopt any conservation measures on Bluefin tuna, despite strong scientific advice,” said the EU commission.
The WWF said it will urge a suspension of the Pacific Bluefin tuna fishery if the nations fail to set binding catch limits in line with scientific recommendations by the end of the year.
“Management measures in the Eastern Pacific and Western and Central Pacific are totally insufficient to preserve the Pacific Bluefin tuna stock,” said Pablo Guerrero, Eastern Pacific Ocean Tuna Coordinator for WWF’s Smart Fishing Initiative. “Only a 50 percent reduction of catches and stringent measures to protect juveniles can ensure a long-term sustainability of this fishery.”
Last week Mexico banned commercial and recreational fishing for bluefin tuna for the rest of the year after the countries’ catch reached the international 5,000-metric-ton limit for bluefin tuna.