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Bluefin Tuna: Top 5 Animals Threatened by Humans

August 9, 2016

atlantic bluefin tuna

The Atlantic Bluefin Tuna

Marine fish provide 15 percent of all animal protein consumed by human beings. Fisheries management, however, has been outpaced by our population growth, causing global fisheries to collapse under the unsustainable pressure. A 2009 assessment found that 80 percent of global fish stocks are either overly and fully exploited or have collapsed. Though a catch reduction of 20-50 percent is needed to make global fisheries sustainable, the demand for fish is expected to increase by 35 million tons by 2030.

Of greatest concern is the western Atlantic bluefin tuna that spawns in the Gulf of Mexico and has declined by more than 80 percent since 1970 due to overharvesting. Prized as a sushi fish around the world, it has become more valuable as it has become rare. One fish in 2011 sold for $396,000. The large, warm-blooded bluefin tuna is a common, upscale sushi menu item and has been severely overfished. The Atlantic bluefin, like so many other ocean species, is threatened by humans’ ravenous appetites: Demand far exceeds sustainable fishing levels.

atlantic bluefin tuna

BLUEFIN BOYCOTT
We’re calling on you to boycott this mighty ocean species that’s been overfished to the brink. Sign the Bluefin Boycott pledge today.

SAVING ATLANTIC BLUEFIN TUNA

Reaching speeds that rival those of cars on a freeway, bluefin tuna can cross the Atlantic in fewer than 60 days. Yet these majestic fish haven’t been able to outrun modern fishing fleets: Overfishing has driven them close to extinction, and they may soon completely disappear from the ocean. Commercial fishing, in the form of longlines, gillnets and purse seines, isn’t just bad for the bluefin tuna; it’s also wiping out endangered sea turtles, seabirds and marine mammals along the way.

The plight of bluefin tuna has been internationally recognized, but efforts to stop the deadly hooks and nets have failed. In fact, humans have such a taste for sushi that in 2013, one fish fetched $1.7 million at a Japanese fish market. Meanwhile, shifty politics has kept fishing quotas far above sustainable levels recommended by scientists. To let the bluefin tuna off the hook, in November 2010 the Center launched the Bluefin Boycott campaign, which is mobilizing thousands of people across the globe in a pledge not to eat or serve bluefin tuna sushi.

During the Gulf oil disaster in 2010, the Center filed a scientific petition to list Atlantic bluefin tuna as endangered. With the tuna already in crisis, the spill threatened its essential breeding habitat as millions of gallons of oil flooded the water column during the height of bluefin spawning — and the spill’s effects will linger in bluefin habitat for many years.

On May 27, 2011, the Fisheries Service announced it would designate the Atlantic bluefin tuna as a “species of concern” but not give it any additional protection under the Endangered Species Act. The Fisheries Service is relying on international management, which has failed for the past 40 years, to save the species — despite the fact that the United States is primarily responsible for the decline of the western Atlantic bluefin tuna, a critically endangered stock that spawns in the Gulf of Mexico and is fished mostly by U.S. fishermen. Canada, which catches the second-highest number of western Atlantic bluefin tuna after the United States, in May 2011 assessed the stock as “endangered,” meaning it faces imminent extirpation or extinction.

While the Center began the petition and legal work specifically for the Atlantic population of bluefin, they expanded that work to defend all bluefin tuna through the Bluefin Boycott campaign. Pacific bluefin numbers are in fact at an astonishing historic low: A 2013 scientific report concluded that their population had declined by an estimated 96.4 percent from unfished levels. So in June 2016 we joined a coalition of individuals and groups to petition the National Marine Fisheries Service to protect this population under the Endangered Species Act as well.

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