Bluefin on the brink…
The torpedoes of the sea, the majestic Pacific Bluefin tuna, are soon to be no more than another notch on the tally stick of extinct species. A new stock assessment found that, at the rapid rate that Pacific Bluefin are disappearing from our oceans, there will be none left in a few short years.
Able to swim at blinding speeds of up to 70 km/h and growing as large as 500 kg and up to three metres long, the Pacific Bluefin is one of the top predators of the deep. Its sleek, submarine-shaped body together with its sheer strength and stamina, has earned it immense admiration and respect from big game anglers.
Unfortunately, it isn’t only a trophy fish or beautiful to look at. A Pacific Bluefin’s flesh is deemed the tastiest of the tuna family, and sushi chefs around the world – and especially in Japan – will pay large sums to serve the fish in their establishments. In fact, earlier this year a single 222 kg tuna was sold at an auction for a staggering $1.76 million! That’s approximately R15.8 million or around R71 200 per kilogram… This particular fish was bought by Kiyoshi Kimura, president of Kiyomura Co., which runs the Sushi-Zanmai restaurant chain.
These figures provide a bit of perspective as to why these species are so sought after and why it is so difficult to regulate and control Bluefin fishing. We also can’t be sure of how rapidly the stock is being depleted because countries such as Japan, who consume the greatest percentage of these fish in the form of sushi and sashimi, are hesitant to have the numbers made public.
The latest stock assessment has, however, estimated that 96.4% of Pacific Bluefin Tuna has been fished out. In other words, a meagre 3.6% is all that remains! The severely threatened stock and its rarity, of course, is also what fetches it such ridiculous prices at auctions which, in turn, drive fishermen to do almost anything to land one of these precious blue-finned commodities. Naturally, opportunists are driven manic – going to extreme lengths at the chance of obtaining and selling the flesh of a Pacific Bluefin to the highest bidder.
The Pew Environment Group was shocked by what the new assessment uncovered regarding the Pacific Bluefin stock. “This latest assessment shows just how bad the situation really is for this top predator,” said Amanda Nickson, Pew Environment Group’s director of global tuna conservation. “This highly valuable fish is being exploited at almost every stage of its life cycle, and more than 90% of Pacific Bluefin caught are juveniles, taken before they have reproduced. Further, fishing continues on the spawning grounds of this heavily overfished species.”
The Pacific Bluefin stock is managed by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission as well as the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission. But, in spite of these troubling findings, current measures do not limit overall catches and cannot ensure the long-term sustainability of the fishery. Countries are still fishing for Pacific Bluefin in the western Pacific Ocean – the only known spawning and nursery area of the species.
“The Pew Environment Group believes the most responsible course of action is to immediately suspend the fishery until significant steps are taken to reverse this decline,” Nickson said. “We call on the major countries fishing this species – Japan, Mexico, South Korea and the United States – to immediately take necessary conservation and management actions for the Pacific Bluefin.” Science-based catch limits and restrictions on the catching of juvenile Bluefin by means of size limits, as well as making the spawning grounds in the western Pacific a no-catch zone, are some of the proposed measures.
It has also been suggested that these measures be strictly implemented with severe implications for transgressors. If some drastic measures aren’t put in place very soon, this fish is as good as gone. Restaurant goers and sushi lovers also need to play their part and practise some restraint. I love sushi as much as anyone else, but I for one will not be frequenting any restaurants which has a Bluefin on offer.