Hope may be on the horizon for the endangered bluefin tuna as a worldwide ban on trade gains momentum. A number of countries including France, Italy and Australia are considering or implementing bans in the catch and trade of the sushi staple approaching a critical vote during the Convention on International Trade in Endanger Species (CITES) in March. Without limitations or even elimination of bluefin fishing many biologist and environmentalist believe the bluefin population will not recover and could become extinct as early as next year.
“Atlantic and Southern bluefin tuna are both listed as endangered by IUCN, with populations of the former reduced 80% since the 1970s. At current fishing rates, which far exceed the official quotas due to rampant illegal fishing, Atlantic bluefin will likely become extinct by 2012. Pacific bluefin tuna are not listed as endangered, but the National Marine Fisheries Service says they are still being overfished.”
Adding oil to injury the negative effects from last years Deepwater Horizon disaster on the bluefin population has yet to be evaluated: “The Deepwater Horizon disaster could not have come at a worse time for bluefin survival. The western North Atlantic bluefin population spawn each year in the north-central Gulf of Mexico during May - this year beginning just after the blowout started. Its eggs and larvae were carried by the "Loop Current" directly into the oil. Any eggs or larvae coming in contact with oil will die. The oils' effects on young bluefin have been magnified by the use of dispersants which are also toxic and which dissolve the toxic oil and can spread it top to bottom throughout the water column.”
Coming to the rescue of the critically endangered fish is the French who have pledged to support listing the bluefin under CITES Appendix 1, which will give the large fish the highest level of agency protection. Unfortunately, the French also want an 18-month delay on enforcing the measure. France follows Italy, which has the third largest catch quota, in supporting the ban. Together France and Italy held over one half of the catch quota for the EU. The powerful French fishing lobby, which are threatening blockades if the measure passes, is seeking an urgent meeting with President Nicolas Sarkozy. Countries still in opposition to the proposal include: Spain, Greece, Malta and Cyprus.
Meanwhile, across the globe - In November the Australian Government announced it would be protecting the southern bluefin tuna by naming it a threatened species. The move offered bluefin more formal protection, however, bluefin is still listed as conservation dependent meaning it can be fished. As Environment Minister Tony Burke explained, "Fishing can continue under existing arrangements, but it will now be a legal requirement that the species remain under a plan of management that includes actions to stop its decline and support its long-term recovery." The move was criticized by conservation groups as not drastic enough to save the decimated population. The southern bluefin is a migratory fish so protection in Australian waters will not mean much when then fish crosses into Japanese waters.
To learn more about the rapidly disappearing but never the less fascinating bluefin tuna (Fun Fact – they accelerate faster than a Porsche) follow this link to the WWF BlueFin Tuna page. And to find out which restaurants are fish safe and which ones need to be boycotted for continuing to serve bluefin go to www.fish2fork.com.
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Image sourced from:animals.nationalgeographic.com