The Bluefin-ish Line

Bluefin Tuna underwater, Sardinia, Italy, Mediterranean Sea.  © Norbert Wu/Minden Pictures
Bluefin tuna are currently one of the world’s hottest commodities. A few years ago, one sold for a staggering $173,600 in Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market, and daily prices range between $2,000 to $20,000 per fish depending on size, season and fat content. This is an insane amount of money for one fish to fetch in the market place. It’s no wonder high economic rewards like this have inspired fishers and businessmen to race to catch as many bluefin tuna as possible. The truth is, long-term this race has no real winner.

The Problems:

Overfishing: High demand for bluefin tuna is causing people to pull more tuna out of the ocean then the ocean can naturally produce. That’s not a good thing.

Health Concerns: Environmental Defense Fund has issued a health advisory for bluefin tuna due to elevated levels of mercury and PCBs. It might taste good, but it’s not as healthy as you think.

What happens if tuna continues to be caught at this rate? Simply put, the population could be wiped out.

The Atlantic population has declined by nearly 90 percent since the 1970s, and new measures are not being put in place to change this trend. Even though I’m not a statistician, those numbers don’t sound very good to me.

And, if you don’t think this is possible, well, it is. In the 1990s the cod fishery collapsed. Canada’s cod industry plummeted in value from $1.4 billion in 1968 to just $10 million in 2004. The fishery collapse caused huge economic fallout in New England and the coastal towns of eastern Canada, resulting in massive job losses, foreclosures on homes, and businesses going under. Some experts are comparing the current tuna population decline to what happen to the cod population. Pretty crazy, right? Absolutely!

Big Solutions, now!

Big problems require big solutions, but unfortunately time is not on our side. Demand is increasing, the market is paying big dollars for the fish, and industrial fishing is reaching remote parts of the ocean that were difficult to access in the past.

I know what you’re thinking – so what can I really do to make difference? The truth is, it is very difficult to have a major impact on this issue as an individual, unless you have that the charisma of Ghandi or Martin Luther King. But does that mean you should sit on the sidelines and do nothing? NO WAY.

You can definitely make smart consumer decisions and not purchase bluefin tuna. You can also spread the word to your friends, family and community. There is power in numbers – that $173,600 selling price is solid proof. There are also committed organizations working to implement fisheries reform. These organizations are capable, committed and well-placed, and are very focused on this issue. The good thing to do is to find an organization that you believe in, and support them anyway you can. There is hope, but it is going to take a lot action at different levels to make a reality. It is possible, I truly believe that. So let’s do it now before tomorrow’s tuna becomes yesterday’s cod.

LEARN MORE: Food security, Turning science into sustainable fishing, Eating seafood

Tim Noviello is the Marine Communications Manager at Conservation International


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