International Tuna Crisis 2009 Update

Massive ships, sporting sophisticated sonar, GPS, video surveillance, and gear technologies have grown increasingly surgical in their hunt for tuna.  Unfortunately, these global fishing fleets continue to bring in record hauls of some species which teeter on the brink of commercial extinction.  Unflinching demand in countries, such as Japan, has created large financial incentives for the continued exploitation of global tuna stocks.  Depending on the size, season, and fat content, a single bluefin tuna can sell for between $2,000 and $20,000 on average.  The record price paid for a single bluefin tuna was $104,700.  The fish was approximately 282 lbs, which brings the price per pound to about $371.27.

According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 9 of 23 tuna global tuna species have reached their maximum sustainable catch.  Another 4 tuna species are now “overexploited” or “depleted.”  Given the fact that tuna are highly migratory species (HMS), regional conservation efforts by countries like the United States represent only a model for the type of international ethic that will be necessary to protect many tuna species from extinction.

The U.S. has taken the lead on curbing the steady slide in global fish stocks with strong fishery regulations centered on scientific management.  The fisheries of the California current, for example, were recently noted as some of the best managed fisheries in the world.  Despite a strong legacy of sustainably managed fisheries, the U.S., like many other coastal nations, has not been without its share of ecological disasters.  Setting inflexible regulations to manage fisheries, which are essentially a small piece of a much larger, more complex ecological system, has lead to some abrupt closures in the past.  New regulatory efforts by the Obama Administration will focus on ecosystem-based fishery management that can adjust catch limits and other criteria as current scientific data requires.

The European Union (EU) has also made recent strides towards better fisheries management in their work to recover their most endangered Atlantic bluefin.  In September, the European Commission moved to ban all trade in the Atlantic bluefin for two years.  Countries like Spain are resisting the new measure, but the majority of EU members support the move.  A final decision on the ban is scheduled on March, 2010 in Doha, Qatar.

A large amount of international cooperation has been garnered this year in response to the increasing evidence of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in national and international waters.  Areas know as “donut holes” that fall outside of national maritime enforcement zones are currently being exploited by large tuna boats.  These tuna boats often employ fish attraction devices (FADs) that are rigged with transmitters and underwater cameras that allow fishermen to fish the area when fish are most abundant.  Often times these FADs attract smaller, juvenile tunas.  To combat IUU fishing and its take of 36% of the total allowable catch in highly vulnerable areas of the Pacific, a number of key nations have come together.  The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), which is comprised of over 25 member nations that include the EU, the U.S., Taiwan, China and Japan will end all tuna fishing in two of the four Pacific donut holes by 2010.  Additionally, the EU has adopted new rules to limit IUU fishing that will begin in January 2010.

It is the hope of conservationists, commercial fishermen, subsistence fishermen, U.S. government officials, and other stakeholders that the international community will muster the political will necessary to recover HMS, like tuna.  “Action is being taken in some places — and where it is being taken, things are turning around,” said Boris Worm, an associate professor of marine conservation biology in Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  The professor and several colleagues recently reported that in seven of 10 key marine ecosystems worldwide where harvest rates were equal to or below those necessary to maintain a sustainable catch, the fisheries were rebounding.  Restricting gear that efficiently and indiscriminately catches all ages and sizes of fish species, temporarily closing overfished regions and critical breeding areas to fishing, reducing the size and number of fishing vessels, and lowering the total allowable catch (TAC) are four primary characteristics that scientist note most well-managed fisheries share.

source: Fishlink Sublegals