No more tuna sandwiches for you, Hobbes. The fish are disappearing.
A crucial meeting held last month to discuss plans to conserve tuna populations in the Eastern Pacific ocean failed to reach a consensus. This was a gathering of member countries of the IATTC (Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission) in Panama City, Panama and was meant to take action on recommendations by the organisation's own scientists to adopt time and area closure measures to protect tuna. Member countries of the IATTC include Colombia, Ecuador, the United States, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Venezuela and Japan.
All over the world, tuna fisheries are taking a hit. From 1960 to 2000, worldwide tuna production doubled roughly every 10 years and peaked at 4.45 million tons in 2004. But the impact of intensive fishing is starting to be felt. In 2001, the western and central Pacific Ocean yellowfin tuna fishing industry was worth $1.9 billion. By 2004, its value had dropped by more than 40% to $1.1 billion. (Source)
Not only are populations declining rapidly, but average size of captured fish is shrinking, a sign that younger individuals are being caught. Removing stocks that have not had the chance to reach maturity and breed was among the foremost reasons for the collapse of the North Atlantic cod. That species is yet to make a recovery.
Fishing prior to breeding age is also putting strain on yellowfin and bigeye tuna in the western and central Pacific Ocean. It is estimated that juvenile yellowfin and bigeye tuna are mixed in with between 10% and 70% of adult tuna caught by fleets in the region. As a result, young bluefin are increasingly hard to find along the U.S. eastern coast.
Despite falling stocks, the size and efficiency of fishing fleets continue to increase. As fish become less abundant, their market value rises, and operators invest more in technology, resulting in more pressure on the stocks. In the face of declining populations, some nations are demanding the right to increase the size of their fishing fleets, say WWF representatives.
The failure of IATTC talks has been blamed on a few member countries which "blocked" conservation efforts. Commenting on the lack of resolution, Rodney McInnis, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration (USA) said:
"The IATTC has failed to take action at a critical juncture for the successful management of these tuna stock. The United States certainly does not want to see a sharp decline of yellowfin and bigeye tuna stocks in the Eastern Pacific similar to the depletion and looming collapse of eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna, but we fear that because the members of this Commission are failing to adopt a management regime supported by the best available science, we may be headed down that path in the near future."