Stopping the Waste of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna
Built for speed and endurance, the bluefin tuna is one of the largest and fastest fish in the sea. Because of decades of overfishing, the western Atlantic population of bluefin has declined by 64 percent since 1970. Yet under current commercial fishing regulations, these bluefin are caught and often killed incidentally by surface longlines targeting other fish. This situation has drawn the ire of fishing communities, scientists, conservationists, and other concerned stakeholders from Texas to Maine.
Even though the targeting of bluefin tuna in the Gulf of Mexico has been prohibited for more than 30 years, fishery managers still face a significant challenge in rebuilding this population. This is due in part to the surface longline fleet in the western Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, which continues to exceed its annual bluefin subquota and waste mature fish by discarding them dead. This waste is of particular concern in the Gulf, the only known spawning ground for western Atlantic bluefin tuna.
To make matters worse, the 2010 Gulf oil spill exacerbated the negative environmental impacts of surface longlines. Recent scientific research indicates that the Deepwater Horizon disaster could affect the reproductive potential of bluefin for decades. The good news is that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service, or NOAA Fisheries, has been working hard to protect bluefin tuna. And the agency’s marathon race to find a solution is nearing the finish line.
NOAA Fisheries is close to providing a long-term solution to this decades-old problem. The agency can help stop the waste of bluefin tuna and help Gulf commercial fishermen in the wake of one of our nation’s worst environmental disasters by taking the following steps.
Finalizing strong regulations that:
- Implement a gear restricted area in the Gulf of Mexico to protect spawning bluefin tuna during their peak spawn.
- Enforce a firm annual limit on the incidental mortality of bluefin for the entire U.S. surface longline fleet along the Atlantic coast and in the Gulf of Mexico to promote equity among fishing sectors and reduce discards.
- Improve monitoring of the surface longline fleet.
Supporting the transition by Gulf of Mexico fishermen from surface longlines to more selective fishing gear.
- NOAA Fisheries can use oil spill restoration funds to create a voluntary program to switch fishermen to highly selective alternative gears, such as greensticks to target yellowfin tuna and buoy gear to target swordfish.