Underwatertimes.com News Service - November 27, 2010 17:07 EST

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna today refused to significantly reduce fishing of Atlantic bluefin, which has been in steep decline for decades from fishing pressure and, most recently, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. With bluefin on the path toward extinction, the Center for Biological Diversity in May called for its protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The commission's decision today not to reduce international catch quotas to safe levels makes domestic Endangered Species Act protections all the more important if the species is to survive.

"The international tuna commission had an opportunity to take bluefin tuna off the path to extinction but didn't. Instead, the commission ignored years of scientific evidence about the perilous decline of bluefin tuna and chose to allow fishing to continue as if nothing is wrong," said Catherine Kilduff, a staff attorney at the Center.

Since 1969, the year the international commission was established, the once-abundant bluefin tuna has been fished to near-extinction. Today the commission set 2011 catch quotas, or limits, of 12,900 tons and 1,750 tons for the two stocks of bluefin tuna: the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean stock and the western Atlantic stock. These levels represent minimal reductions from the 2010 quotas of 13,500 and 1,800 tons.

"This level of fishing pressure sentences bluefin tuna to yet another decade of depletion," Kilduff said. "The fishing quotas adopted today bank on overly optimistic conditions for tuna recovery so that fishermen can continue to catch the prized bluefin tuna as they have in past years. As the Gulf of Mexico oil spill shows, bluefin face more threats than just fishing."

Atlantic bluefin tuna have declined by more than 80 percent since 1970 due to overfishing. Unfortunately, the sushi market keeps prices for tuna high " a single bluefin sold for $177,000 in 2010 " and encourages illegal and unreported fishing. A report this month by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists valued the illegal trade between 1998 and 2007 at $4 billion.

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico killed 20 percent of juvenile tuna in the area, according to scientists' estimates. The Gulf is one of only two known spawning grounds for Atlantic bluefin tuna, a remarkable ocean species capable of growing up to 10 feet long, swimming at speeds up to 50 miles per hour and crossing an entire ocean in just weeks.

For more information about the Center's bluefin tuna conservation campaign.