Meeting in Montreal Could Determine Fate of Western Atlantic Bluefin Tuna
This week, fisheries managers and scientists from around the world will meet in Canada and shape the fate of the western Atlantic bluefin tuna, signaling whether fishery managers will choose to follow sound science and let this tuna population recover or ignore precaution and return to crippling levels of overfishing. The latter could result in the collapse of the western Atlantic bluefin population.
Participants at the first meeting of the Working Group of Fisheries Managers and Scientists in Support of the Western Bluefin Tuna Stock Assessment—which takes place from June 26 to 28—will discuss the level to which this severely depleted population can recover, the conclusion of which will set the scene for quota negotiations later this year.
Despite a recent trend toward setting quotas based on sound science, there is a growing chorus seeking to “justify” increasing the catch limit for western Atlantic bluefin—a population that has declined to just 36 percent of its size in 1970. Some stakeholders want to promote the use of unproven population modeling and problematic data that suggests that the western Atlantic bluefin tuna numbers will never rebound to high levels because of some fundamental shift in the environmental conditions of the fishery. This is not supported by any peer-reviewed science and is completely inconsistent with historical data indicating that, with appropriate and careful management and low quotas, numbers of this highly valuable fish would increase to the point where the fishery would be worth far more than it is today.
If unsupported hypotheses and suspect data are used to justify an increased quota as early as this year's meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, or ICCAT (Cape Town, South Africa, Nov. 18 to 25), it could be disastrous for the future of this severely depleted population.
Though the workshop will take place under the auspices of ICCAT— Canada is hosting the meeting, and has been the most vocal advocate for taking a riskier approach and increasing the quota to maximize short-term economic gain.
ICCAT must not allow its scientific process and key management decisions to be undermined by hyperbole or unproven hypotheses. It must also follow the precautionary principle and only use the best available science to set quotas.
Bluefin are one of the largest, fastest, and most streamlined animals on the planet, built for speed and endurance. They can weigh up to 1,500 pounds and dive to 3,000 feet. Their deep red flesh is prized for sushi at high-end restaurants. As demand in Japan (the primary import country), Europe, and North America has exploded, legal and illegal fishing have increased dramatically. The three species of bluefin tuna—Atlantic, southern, and Pacific—are all overfished throughout their range.
Western Atlantic bluefin tuna is caught throughout the North Atlantic Ocean, primarily off the east coast of North America and in the Gulf of Mexico.