A bright new chapter for Bluefin tuna has begun. NOAA Fisheries recently issued a strong final amendment for protecting these giants of the ocean.
With the promulgation of implementing regulations, the new amendment will help stop western Atlantic Bluefin — and approximately 80 other types of marine wildlife — from unnecessarily dying on surface longlines, fishing gear that is intended primarily for Yellowfin tuna and swordfish, but indiscriminately kills other species. “NOAA Fisheries deserves great praise for significantly increasing protections for Bluefin while allowing fishing for Yellowfin tuna and swordfish to continue,” said Lee Crockett, director of U.S. ocean conservation for The Pew Charitable Trusts. “This historic action will help western Atlantic Bluefin tuna rebuild to healthy levels.”
Bluefin tuna command respect. They’re as fast as racehorses, bring fishermen to their knees, and grow to the size of a small car. These “super fish” make transoceanic migrations, can dive deeper than 4 000 feet, and live up to 40 years. But Bluefin are no match for wasteful fishing methods. The population of western Atlantic Bluefin tuna is just 36 percent of its already depleted 1970 level. This decline is caused in part by surface longlining.
Surface long lines average 30 miles in length, use hundreds of baited hooks, and often remain in the water untended for up to 18 hours. This gear catches and kills Bluefin along with many other species, including hammerhead sharks, blue marlin, and leatherback sea turtles.
For the past half-century, surface longlines in the Gulf of Mexico have been a serious danger to western Atlantic Bluefin tuna as the Gulf is the fish’s only known spawning area. The same fishing gear poses a similar threat to Bluefin feeding off the coast of North Carolina.