Pacific Bluefin Tuna Should Be Protected Under Endangered Species Act

Pacific bluefin tuna swimming

aes256 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.1 JP

An alliance of environmental groups has petitioned the National Marine Service to consider bluefin tuna and its habitat to be endangered, due to overfishing.

Pacific bluefin tuna populations are plummeting as demand for the fish increases, mostly as a luxury item on sushi menus around world. The bluefin population has dropped to 3 percent of what it once was, before it became such a sought-after consumable; and the future is particularly grim because most of the bluefin tuna caught (approximately 97 percent, according to the WWF) are juvenile, not yet mature enough to reproduce.

graphic on tuna from WWF


WWF - Current Situation of Pacific Bluefin Tuna and Stock Management/viaA press release from the Center for Biological Diversity explains:

“In 2014 the Pacific Bluefin tuna population produced the second-lowest number of young fish seen since 1952. Just a few adult age classes of Pacific bluefin tuna exist, and these will soon disappear due to old age. Without young fish to mature into the spawning stock to replace the aging adults, the future is grim for Pacific bluefin unless immediate steps are taken to halt this decline.”

Because of this serious decline, a group of petitioners has formally requested that the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service protect the Pacific bluefin tuna population under the Endangered Species Act. The petitioners include the Center for Biological Diversity, The Ocean Foundation, Earthjustice, Center for Food Safety, Defenders of Wildlife, Greenpeace, Mission Blue, the Sierra Club, and others.

The petition was submitted to the Secretary of Commerce on June 20, 2016. It reads, in part:

“Management of Pacific bluefin tuna fisheries has been a case of too little, too late. Though the stock has been overfished for most of the last 70 years, commercial catch in the eastern Pacific was not restricted until 2012, and catch limits are 20 percent higher than the ISC scientific advice. Similarly, in the western Pacific, there were no binding catch limits until 2013.
“Pacific bluefin are also compromised by threats to their habitat, including water and plastic pollution, oil and gas development, renewable energy projects, large-scale aquaculture of other species, forage fish depletion, and climate change.”

To lose bluefin tuna would be tragic loss for our planet. They are majestic fish, reaching up to 6 feet in length, warm-blooded, and one of the largest, fastest, most beautiful fish in the ocean. They live mostly in the northern Pacific Ocean and hatch from their eggs near Japan and New Zealand. They travel along the coast of Japan and around western Pacific in search of food, then at one year of age travel across the ocean. They typically spend several years near the west coast of the Americas before returning to northwestern Pacific waters to spawn, once they reach 3 to 5 years of age.

And yet, despite knowing this, we continue to compromise the repopulation and viability of the species through over-fishing. Says Dr. Sylvia Earle, founder of Mission Blue and explorer-in-residence at National Geographic, “In the last 50 years, technological acumen has enabled us to kill over 90 percent of tuna and other species. When one species is fished out, we move on to the next, which is not good for the ocean and not good for us.”

It remains to be seen what the National Marine Service will choose to do, but in the meantime, please don’t eat any more sushi.