Pacific bluefin population down 96.4%

09 Jan 2013
Bluefin tuna. Credit: Marco Care/Marine Photobank

Bluefin tuna. Credit: Marco Care/Marine Photobank

Scientists have released a new stock assessment for bluefin tuna which shows that the Pacific bluefin population has dropped 96.4% from unfished levels due to decades of overfishing.

This news came days after a single Pacific bluefin tuna fetched $1.76 million at a fish auction in Tokyo, Japan.

Despite these findings, countries are still fishing for Pacific bluefin tuna in its only known spawning and nursery areas in the western Pacific Ocean. The current management measures in the western Pacific do not limit overall catches and fail to ensure the long-term sustainability of this fishery.

Slightly better management exists in the eastern Pacific. At its annual meeting last June, the body responsible for managing Pacific bluefin off the west coast of the Americas, adopted the first catch limits for this species. This conservation measure caused the fishery to close earlier than planned when the limit was exceeded in August. While those actions were encouraging, they are not nearly enough, says Pew.

“The Pew Environment Group believes the most responsible course of action is to immediately suspend the fishery until significant steps are taken to reverse this decline,” said Amanda Nickson, who directs global tuna conservation at the Pew Environment Group.

“This latest assessment shows just how bad the situation really is for this top predator,” said Ms Nickson. “This highly valuable fish is being exploited at almost every stage of its life cycle, and more than 90% of Pacific bluefin caught are juveniles, taken before they have reproduced. Further, fishing continues on the spawning grounds of this heavily overfished species.

"We call on the major countries fishing this species - Japan, Mexico, South Korea, and the United States - to immediately take necessary conservation and management actions for Pacific bluefin,” said Ms Nickson.

Measures include science-based catch limits, and major reductions in the catches of juvenile bluefin by implementing size limits across the Pacific and preventing fishing on bluefin spawning grounds. Robust monitoring and enforcement measures must also be implemented to ensure that the rules are followed, says Pew.

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