WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Center for Biological Diversity today requested that the United States seek protection for Atlantic bluefin tuna under an international treaty that would ban cross-border trade of this imperiled fish. Listing bluefin under Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the major international treaty on endangered species, would allow countries to shut down the black market that has fueled much of the tuna's dramatic decline.
"Illegal fishing is a scourge on bluefin tuna that undermines any attempt to recover healthy population levels. Any hope of pulling bluefin tuna back from the brink of extinction depends on unprecedented global cooperation to reduce overfishing," said Catherine Kilduff, a Center staff attorney Kilduff.
Listing bluefin tuna under CITES could also improve compliance with catch limits and documentation that are required by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, which has failed to prevent bluefin tuna's unsustainable slaughter for more than four decades.
Compliance with catch levels is critical to preventing the extinction of Atlantic bluefin tuna in part because, in June, the National Marine Fisheries Service denied Endangered Species Act protection to the enormous, warm-blooded fish in response to a Center for Biological Diversity petition. Since then Libyan vessels may have harvested bluefin tuna illegally, and Italian officials are investigating a huge, illegal fishing-and-trafficking operation targeting bluefin in the Mediterranean. Authorities say they've found more than 1,000 violations, including falsified fishing records and trading documents.
"Unfortunately, too many view bluefin tuna as a high-priced sushi item rather than an imperiled ocean species that desperately needs help," Kilduff said "We simply have to have trade restrictions to curb the widespread exploitation that threatens the future of this magnificent species."
The next CITES meeting will occur in 2013. At the most recent meeting, in March 2010, a proposal to list Atlantic bluefin tuna was overwhelming voted down despite U.S. support. Reportedly the Japanese delegation served bluefin tuna sushi at a party the night before the vote in order to sway countries against the ban. The next month, the Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon oil spill occurred during prime western Atlantic bluefin tuna spawning season. In two years, when effects of the spill are better understood, the Fisheries Service will reconsider whether Atlantic bluefin tuna should be listed as endangered or threatened.
Western Atlantic bluefin tuna do not cross the Atlantic but migrate from Gulf of Mexico nursery areas to rich feeding grounds off New England. Those bluefin tuna from the Mediterranean, however, traverse the ocean in a matter of weeks as early as age one. Overfishing in Europe means that fewer Mediterranean tuna reach U.S. waters.
Since 1970, western Atlantic bluefin tuna have declined by more than 70 percent due to overfishing. In response to the decline of the bluefin, the Center last year launched a nationwide boycott of bluefin tuna. (Visit bluefinboycott.org for more information.) More than 25,000 people have joined the Center's campaign and pledged not to eat at restaurants serving bluefin tuna; dozens of chefs and owners of seafood and sushi restaurants have pledged not to sell bluefin.
For more information about the Center's campaign to save the Atlantic bluefin tuna, visit: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/fish/Atlanticbluefintuna/index.html.
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