Nonprofits ramp up campaign to increase protections for Pacific bluefin tuna

Published on
August 25, 2017

Ahead of an international conference scheduled next week to discuss rebuilding the Pacific bluefin tuna population, several organizations and influential leaders have urged countries to act quickly to stop what they claim is a steep decline in the species’ numbers.

For years, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch initiative has urged people to avoid the fish because of its low numbers, but the campaign has picked up steam in advance of Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission’s Northern Committee 13th Regular Session in Busan, South Korea, scheduled to begin on Monday, 28 August. Those involved in the week-long talks centered on conservation measures for the Pacific bluefin tuna include the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Japan, with the latter country being the most dominant market for the species.

Among those speaking out included former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who said the current situation not only threatens the ecology but the economy as well.

“Unsustainable fishing isn’t just the enemy of conservation, it’s the enemy of fishermen everywhere,” said Kerry in a statement on the aquarium’s blog.  “We know we can do better. That is why we should all be invested in the difficult task of turning things around and getting Pacific bluefin tuna on a path to recovery.”

The aquarium also announced on Wednesday, 23 August that nearly 200 culinary leaders from around world have pledged to keep the prized delicacy off their menus until leaders submit an adequate recovery plan. 

Advocates claim the current Pacific bluefin tuna biomass represents less than three percent of its historic population. They claim that, in many cases, commercial fishermen are harvesting young fish that never get a chance to spawn. Coupled with Mexico and Japan having already exceeding their catch quotas for 2017, immediate reforms are necessary to help the species recover, the group said.

Michael Cimarusti, owner and chef of Los Angeles restaurant Providence, said in a statement released by the Monterey Bay Aquarium his conscience won’t allow him to offer the fish to his patrons.

"Chefs have an obligation to offer seafood dishes that promote a healthy, diverse living ocean ... There will be time to enjoy it again when their numbers are back," he said.

In a statement delivered to the committee on Tuesday, The Pew Charitable Trusts urged countries to agree to quota reductions and to pursue adult tuna, measures it said would hasten the Pacific bluefin’s recovery. That echoes comments the organization made earlier this month after the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission failed to reach consensus on a plan to stop overfishing. 

If the countries can’t reach an agreement, then the countries must stop commercial fishing for Pacific bluefin until a plan can be implemented, Pew said.

Earlier this month, U.S. officials declined to grant endangered species status to the Pacific bluefin tuna after conducting a nearly year-long study prompted by petitions from advocacy groups.  However, while officials do not agree with advocates’ population estimates, they did agree that the population experienced some overfishing in recent years.

In a statement released Friday 25, August, conservation group WWF urged the attendees of the committee meeting agree to a rebuilding target for the Pacific bluefin tuna of at least 20 percent of unfished levels.

“WWF believes that it will be necessary to suspend Pacific bluefin tuna commercial fishing if conservation measures are not agreed. WWF also urges all stakeholders to make a strong commitment for the development of a robust monitoring, control, and surveillance system," Aiko Yamauchi, head of WWF-Japan's Oceans and Seafood Group, said. "As the largest fishing country and consumer of Pacific bluefin tuna, Japan has a particular responsibility to deliver an effective stock recovery plan.”

Want seafood news sent to your inbox?