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NOAA May Save Bluefin Tuna with Commercial Fishing Ban

Jul 28, 2014 12:07 PM EDT
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Soon the diminishing Pacific bluefin tuna population may be thrown a lifeline. The NOAA Fisheries Service is considering enacting a ban on both recreational and commercial fishing of the species in an effort to save it.

According to The Dodo, there are just 40,000 adult Pacific bluefin tuna remaining in the wild today - four percent of the fish's historic average.

Commercial and recreational fisheries have targeted the Pacific bluefun tuna (Thunnus orientalis) for some time, but the rise of sushi and sashimi markets in the 1970's and 1980's caused the demand and prices for bluefin tuna to soar - prices have reached $1.76 million for a single fish.

And 90 percent of the fish caught are juveniles who haven't had the chance to breed before they die (usually only two years old and a mere three feet long). Bluefin tuna are late to mature, slow-growing, and long lived, so they are especially vulnerable to fishing pressure compared to faster growing, more productive species, according to the NOAA.

Thankfully for the tuna's sake, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) petitioned NOAA in April to consider putting the Pacific bluefin tuna on its list of endangered species along with Atlantic and southern Bluefin tuna.

"This initiation of this important process provides a glimmer of hope in a sea of bleak news for Pacific bluefin tuna," CBD Attorney Catherine Kilduff, said in a news release. "Saving Pacific bluefin tuna from the world's insatiable appetite for sushi requires action at all levels, starting with protection in U.S. waters."

Though the CBD is taking initiative, the international fight to save these fish is slow going. Just two weeks ago, Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) announced it was delaying discussions on fishing quotas until October after Japan, Korea, Mexico and the United States could not agree on conservation measures. The EU commission said in a statement that IATTC "failed to adopt any conservation measures on Bluefin tuna, despite strong scientific advice."

If the NOAA follows through on the CBD's request, the United States will have followed in Mexico's footsteps, which just prohibited commercial and recreational fishing for bluefin tuna for the remainder of 2014 (after reaching the international 5,000-metric-ton limit).

Bluefin tuna are really a remarkable species. They can reach speeds up to 60 mph. They spawn in the western Pacific near Japan, and some migrate to the California current as juveniles to feed on anchovy, herring and red crab.

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