With bluefin tuna, there’s a catch
A little more than two years ago, the Commission for the International Trade in Endangered Species rejected a global trade ban for bluefin tuna, much to the chagrin of conservationists who argued that the species was running out of time.
This summer, as another commercial harvest begins on both sides of the Atlantic, bluefin tuna remains at the center of controversy — and on menus, particularly in Japan, where an estimated 80 percent of the global supply is sold. But to U.S. fishermen, the public debate about the species’ pending doom is confounding. Contending that their fishery is sustainably fished and well managed, they say recent scientific data supports what they’ve been saying all along: Bluefin tuna are not on the brink.
So, despite mass media reports of a devastated biomass and environmental activists urging consumers to stop eating the species, there’s a thriving artisanal fishery just off the coast of the United States and Canada. What’s a seafood buyer to do with all this conflicting information?
It partly depends on what you’re reading, because some published stock reports for Atlantic (Thunnus thynnus), Pacific (T. orientalis) and southern (T. maccoyii) bluefin tuna are bleak. The Atlantic and southern species are listed on the World Conservation Union Red List of Threatened Species. Due to critical bycatch concerns, overfishing from the industrial purse seining fleet, the preponderance of illegal, unreported and unregulated catches of Atlantic bluefin and poor management, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s influential Seafood Watch program advises consumers to avoid bluefin tuna altogether.
However, U.S. scientists are learning new things about bluefin tuna.