Annual Pacific Bluefin Tuna Auction Continues Despite Species’ Dire Status

Traditional sale in Japanese market to be held amid calls for stronger protections for this highly depleted stock

Annual Pacific Bluefin Tuna Auction Continues Despite Species’ Dire Status
Pacific bluefin tuna

© Richard Herrmann

At the beginning of each year, the legendary Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo hosts an increasingly sad spectacle: the first auction of the season for one of the last remaining Pacific bluefin tunas.

In previous years, a single fish has sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars. In 2013, bidding reached a record $1.76 million. Pacific bluefin are prized as high-quality sushi, but the widely publicized auction and media accounts tend to obscure the true state of the species. Already depleted by more than 97 percent from historic levels, this tuna is being fished at rates up to three times higher than scientists say is sustainable.

The regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) tasked with overseeing the species, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, have not taken sufficient action to protect or rebuild Pacific bluefin, meaning its days as an economically viable fishery may be numbered.

In July, The Pew Charitable Trusts called for a two-year moratorium on commercial fishing of Pacific bluefin. A suspension of fishing would immediately end overfishing and give time for the RFMOs to implement management measures that would rebuild the stock to healthy levels. Since then, 12 other nongovernmental organizations (PDF) have joined the call, including Earthjustice, Greenpeace, Mission Blue, the International Game Fish Association, and the Safina Center. Fifty-eight scientists (PDF) have also signed on to a letter urging action and making clear that the species will continue to decline if managers don’t follow scientific advice.

The public has also spoken up: To date, more than 22,000 people have written to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, urging the agency to institute a ban on bluefin fishing in American waters and to encourage other nations to do the same. The U.S. government is determining whether it should list the species under the Endangered Species Act, which would bring new protections as well.

At the December meeting of the WCPFC, no action was taken to protect Pacific bluefin, but new momentum emerged for conservation as an increasing number of countries spoke up in support of stronger measures in 2017. Although it is encouraging to see acknowledgment that the species is in trouble, Japan and other top fishing nations need to take the lead on changing course.

The annual Pacific bluefin auction in Tokyo is an important event for the fishing industry in Japan, but high prices for a single fish shouldn’t distract from the urgent need to conserve the species. Only further international protections will ensure that the Pacific bluefin population will be rebuilt, leading to a sustainable future for the species and for the fishermen who depend on it for their livelihood.

Amanda Nickson directs the global tuna conservation project for The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Spotlight on Mental Health

Composite image of modern city network communication concept

Learn the Basics of Broadband from Our Limited Series

Sign up for our four-week email course on Broadband Basics

Quick View

How does broadband internet reach our homes, phones, and tablets? What kind of infrastructure connects us all together? What are the major barriers to broadband access for American communities?

Pills illustration
Pills illustration

What Is Antibiotic Resistance—and How Can We Fight It?

Sign up for our four-week email series The Race Against Resistance.

Quick View

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as “superbugs,” are a major threat to modern medicine. But how does resistance work, and what can we do to slow the spread? Read personal stories, expert accounts, and more for the answers to those questions in our four-week email series: Slowing Superbugs.

Explore Pew’s new and improved
Fiscal 50 interactive

Your state's stats are more accessible than ever with our new and improved Fiscal 50 interactive:

  • Maps, trends, and customizable charts
  • 50-state rankings
  • Analysis of what it all means
  • Shareable graphics and downloadable data
  • Proven fiscal policy strategies


Welcome to the new Fiscal 50

Key changes include:

  • State pages that help you keep track of trends in your home state and provide national and regional context.
  • Interactive indicator pages with highly customizable and shareable data visualizations.
  • A Budget Threads feature that offers Pew’s read on the latest state fiscal news.

Learn more about the new and improved Fiscal 50.