Conservation groups disagree with NOAA decision on Western Atlantic bluefin

The decision by NOAA Fisheries to remove Western Atlantic bluefin tuna is not sitting well with conservationists.

Last week, the agency released its Status of U.S. Fisheries report for 2017. In it, officials announced that the number of stocks on the overfished list had dropped to 35, an all-time low. The Western Atlantic bluefin was among six stocks removed from the overfished list. NOAA, in a press release, said “significant scientific uncertainty” about the stock after last year’s assessment led to the ruling. 

To be placed on the overfished list, NOAA officials must determine the stock’s population is too small. That differs from the overfishing list, where stocks with an excessive catch rate land. Overfished stocks may not necessarily be subject to overfishing currently, however, the stock cannot produce a maximum sustainable yield in its present condition. Other factors, such as environmental changes, also may put a stock on the overfished list.

In the NOAA press release, Chris Oliver, assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries said the agency is committed to rebuilding stocks because it has both economic and ecological benefits.

“Rebuilding stocks to fully utilize our fisheries is one way NOAA can reduce our nation’s seafood deficit,” said Oliver. “We look forward to exploring innovative approaches to fisheries management and working with our partners to ensure America’s fisheries remain the world’s most sustainable.”

The decision by NOAA officials comes after the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas last November raised the Western Atlantic quota to 2,350 metric tons per year through 2020. Conservationists argued that the stock was still depleted and pushed for an annual limit of just 1,000 metric tons.

Amanda Nickson, the director of international fisheries for The Pew Charitable Trusts, said the decision runs counter to previous fishery management decisions made by U.S. officials, and as such, it raises concerns.

“Removing western Atlantic bluefin tuna from the United States’ list of overfished species contradicts the science, further risks the health of the population, and is a disappointing step backwards for fisheries management” she said.

Shana Miller, a program manager for The Ocean Foundation, agreed.

“This move continues the backwards trend for management of a species worth millions of dollars to U.S. fishermen each year, and could lead to further depletion,” Miller said. “The United States is making real progress in managing its domestic fisheries. It shouldn’t overrate those gains by hiding the true status of Atlantic bluefin tuna.”

NOAA Fisheries spokeswoman Kate Brogan said Western Atlantic bluefin will be managed by an interim conservation plan for the next two years. After that time, a new plan will be implemented that will include recommendations provided by ICCAT.


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