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Illegal Fishing Threatens To Drive Eastern Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Extinct; Trade Ban Urged 'Until Populations Rebuild'

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WASHINGTON, D.C., -- An analysis of eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna trade data released today shows that harvests of the imperiled tuna are more than double the legal amount. This calls into question the National Marine Fisheries Service's June decision, responding to a Center for Biological Diversity petition, that found bluefin were not endangered as long as there is a high degree of compliance with total allowable catch levels.

"Illegal fishing is rapidly pushing eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna to the brink of extinction. Rather than turn a blind eye to this ongoing crisis, the Fisheries Service needs to give this dwindling species the protection it needs to survive," said Catherine Kilduff, a Center staff attorney. "Endangered Species Act protections are necessary to stop U.S. imports from the Mediterranean and begin rebuilding this population, crucial to the health of Atlantic Ocean and our fisheries."

The Pew Environment Group report found that in 2010, the amount traded on the global market was 141 percent above allowable catch levels (32,564.9 metric tons). That doesn't include "black market" bluefin missing from trade records. Discounting illegal fishing, the Fisheries Service's denial of listing for the bluefin determined that a 5 percent probability of extinction in 20 years is a reasonable threshold for endangered status. At catch levels of 30,000 metric tons, there is an 8.5 percent probability that fewer than 500 adult bluefin tuna will survive in 2030.

Highly migratory, warm-blooded fish, Atlantic bluefin tuna include two genetically distinct populations, one that spawns in the Mediterranean (the "eastern Atlantic" stock) and a much smaller population that spawns in the Gulf of Mexico (the "western Atlantic" stock). Today's analysis of the eastern Atlantic stock has implications for both stocks because of cross-Atlantic mixing. Capable of speeds over 55 mph, bluefin tuna from the Mediterranean traverse the ocean in a matter of weeks as early as age one. Overfishing means that fewer Mediterranean tuna reach U.S. waters.

"Skyrocketing consumer demand for bluefin tuna has driven overfishing and lax enforcement of international agreements," said Kilduff. "After years of recognizing the problem, but not implementing a solution, the international community must ban trade until bluefin tuna populations rebuild."

In August 2011 the Center requested that the United States propose Atlantic bluefin tuna for protection 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. CITES protection would ban cross-border trade in Atlantic bluefin, potentially improving compliance with catch limits. The next CITES meeting will occur in 2013.

In response to the decline of the bluefin, the Center last year launched a nationwide boycott of bluefin tuna. (Visit 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.

According to a McKinsey & Company report released last month, current bluefin harvesting levels are projected to drive the eastern Atlantic fishery to collapse between 2012 and 2015. If illegal and unreported fishing could be 100 percent eliminated, the fishery could recover by 2023. But impressively, if the fishery were to be completely closed, according to the report, it would recover within eight years.

For more information about the Center's campaign to save the Atlantic bluefin tuna, visit:

Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of, its staff or its advertisers.

Reader Comments

6 people have commented so far. cloud add your comment

It is a shame that we can not control the sale of these fish, Most of them are sold in markets in Japan. A average size fish sale for thousands of dollars. WE should have international law against the harvesting of these fish and Whales, but it seems as if the Japanese don't want to follow up and put a stop to both. We could tie it to trade agreements and then they would lose the appetite for both blue fin and whales.
   comment# 1   - John Littleton · Fayetteville, GA · Oct 19, 2011 @ 10:46am

Time to shut down this industry for at least 10 years to allow these species a fighting chance. Enforcement at the strictest levels should include the permanent seizure of all boats, equipment and catch of any boat caught! Fines and mandatory jail time should be included. Repeat offenders should serve 15 yr. and have their license revoked permanently. These same measures should apply particularly to Japan! They are the worst offenders of all environmental laws! Boats and equipment seized to sold for support of the fisheries and cannot be sold back to any captain or crew member it was seized from. Foreign boats and equipment cannot be sold back to country of origin. There are no other alternatives that will allow recovery of these species This includes sale or importation of bluefin tuna.
   comment# 2   - Larry Cowden · Long Island, USA · Oct 19, 2011 @ 10:55am

If sushi bars would stop selling bluefin tuna, they would have a chance.
   comment# 3   - Mary MARKUS · Garden Grove, USA · Oct 19, 2011 @ 1:31pm

Greed and the focus on the here and the now destroys anything of value. And of course if you can make a chinese mans manhood hard then you will definately go the way of the DoDo bird.
   comment# 4   - Wombat · Mesa, USA · Oct 19, 2011 @ 2:14pm

One more species us humans are wiping out.
   comment# 5   - vance willard · river vale, bergen county · Oct 20, 2011 @ 7:05am

oce again the japenese ruin everything
   comment# 6   - Jeff Page · Spencerort,New York · Nov 6, 2011 @ 10:26am
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