Bringing Bluefin Back

A global effort to rebuild iconic tuna populations that have long captivated fishermen and ocean advocates

Bringing Bluefin Back

The three species of bluefin tuna that travel across enormous swaths of the world’s temperate oceans have gained legendary status among fishermen for their size, speed, power, and remarkable migrations. Atlantic, Pacific, and southern bluefin can weigh hundreds of pounds, swim more than 40 kilometres (25 miles) per hour, and live up to 40 years.

But the increased global demand for high-end sushi has put some bluefin stocks at risk of disappearing: For example, years of overfishing have severely depleted Pacific bluefin, with the population now at just 2.6 percent of its historic level. The western stock of Atlantic bluefin tuna, meanwhile, is only now beginning to show signs of growth after decades of mismanagement, and there are reasons to doubt the staying power of this positive trend.

On the other hand, bluefin in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea are coming back and southern bluefin populations are slowly improving because of more effective and modern strategies implemented by the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT) in 2011. These developments show that bluefin stocks can rebuild.

Worldwide, these tuna are worth billions of dollars each year in fishing income, dockside sales, and restaurant bills. According to 2014 data, the three bluefin species together generate more than $2 billion for the industry each year. Despite that value—and the demonstrated benefits of healthy stocks to ocean ecosystems and the fishermen who target bluefin—managers have been slow and sometimes reluctant to make science-based, precautionary management decisions for these stocks.

That is why The Pew Charitable Trusts has been working around the world to bring bluefin back.

To succeed, the major regional fisheries management organizations responsible for these tuna—the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, and the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission—must follow the lead of CCSBT and implement harvest strategies to make sure that bluefin stocks can rebuild and then remain healthy. These strategies require stakeholders to agree in advance on key management objectives for the fishery and on the actions they will take to keep the fishery at a healthy level. This process helps avoid quota negotiations that often become contentious and time-consuming and that have led to overfishing of each of these stocks at some point.

No matter their status or where in the ocean they hail from, these bluefin species should be managed wisely to ensure that their populations are healthy and that they continue their epic ocean journeys for many years to come. 

Pacific bluefin tuna
Pacific bluefin tuna
Article

Help Severely Depleted Pacific Bluefin Tuna

Quick View
Article

The fate of Pacific bluefin tuna is hanging in the balance. After decades of overfishing and mismanagement, the population of this iconic species has been depleted by more than 97 percent from its historic high. Yet international fisheries managers have failed year after year to agree to a plan to help Pacific bluefin recover to healthy levels.

Bluefin Tuna
Bluefin Tuna
Article

Brighter Future for Pacific Bluefin Tuna

Quick View
Article

The Pacific bluefin tuna is among the most depleted species on the planet, having been fished down more than 97 percent from its historic, unfished size. For years, this prized fish has been in dire need of strong policies that would reverse that decline, but the two organizations responsible for its management—the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC)—failed in their recent efforts, allowing overfishing to continue and further risking the future of the species.

Netting Billions
Netting Billions
Report

A Global Valuation of Tuna

Quick View
Report

Taken together, the seven most commercially important tuna species are among the most economically valuable fishes on the planet. Collectively, skipjack, albacore, bigeye, yellowfin, Atlantic bluefin, Pacific bluefin, and southern bluefin tuna inhabit all of the tropical and temperate waters of the Earth’s oceans—and support artisanal and industrial fishing wherever they exist. Canned and other shelf-stable tuna products provide plentiful and inexpensive protein to markets around the world, while smaller amounts of high-quality tuna steaks and sashimi make their way to affluent markets in Asia, Europe, and North America.

Pacific bluefin tuna
Pacific bluefin tuna
Press Releases & Statements

Pew Calls for Moratorium on Commercial Fishing of Pacific Bluefin Tuna

Quick View
Press Releases & Statements

WASHINGTON—The Pew Charitable Trusts today called for a two-year moratorium on commercial fishing of the highly depleted Pacific bluefin tuna. In this year’s stock assessment, scientists found that the population is at just 2.6 percent of its historic size and that overall fishing mortality remains up to three times higher than is sustainable.

Tuna
Tuna
Article

Harvest Strategies

Quick View
Article

A novel approach, known as “harvest strategies” or “management procedures,” is emerging as the next innovation in fisheries management. 

Tuna stocks
Tuna stocks
Data Visualization

The Science Is Critical for Atlantic Stocks

Quick View
Data Visualization

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) is a regional fisheries management organization that plays an important role in safeguarding the health of iconic Atlantic fish populations and the profitability of the fisheries that depend on them.

bluefin tuna
Saving Bluefin Tuna
2min 8sec
Harvest strategies
Scientist Doug Butterworth on the Benefits of Harvest Strategies
5min 12sec