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Sushi Eaters Push Bluefin Tuna Towards Extinction

Nov 17, 2014 05:20 PM EST

The Pacific Bluefin tuna, a fish popular among sushi eaters, is verging on the brink of extinction as the global food market places "unsustainable pressure" on the species, a conservation group warned Monday.

Along with the Chinese pufferfish, American eel, Chinese cobra and Australian black grass-dart butterfly, the Pacific Bluefin tuna (Thunnus orientalis) recently joined the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) "red list" of threatened species.

"Each update of the IUCN 'red list' makes us realize that our planet is constantly losing its incredible diversity of life, largely due to our destructive actions to satisfy our growing appetite for resources," IUCN's director-general Julia Marton-Lefevre said in a press release.

Targeted by the fishing industry for the sushi and sashimi markets in Japan and other parts of Asia, Bluefin tuna populations have dropped 19 to 33 percent in the last two decades. Most of the tuna caught are juveniles which have not yet had a chance to reproduce, and consequentially the Swiss-based agency was prompted to upgrade the fish's status from "least concern" to "vulnerable."

The list assesses 76,199 species, and of those 22,413 are being pushed towards extinction.

What's more, nearly half of the newly assessed species occur within protected areas, raising concerns about just how well these areas are actually managed.

"We have scientific evidence that protected areas can play a central role in reversing this trend," Marton-Lefevre said. "Experts warn that threatened species poorly represented in protected areas are declining twice as fast as those which are well represented. Our responsibility is to increase the number of protected areas and ensure that they are effectively managed so that they can contribute to saving our planet's biodiversity."

But poor management practices aren't the only thing to blame for the downfall of the Bluefin tuna. As the largest species of tuna, Bluefin are highly sought after for traditional sushi and sashimi dishes popular in Japan, according to CBS News. The country imports more than 80 percent of the raw fish for this reason, and thus has long been considered the driver of the Bluefin's demise.

Though tuna are built for speed, not even their swift fins can help them outrun extinction. Hopefully with the IUCN's new status listing and the call for better management of protected areas, these tasty fish can start to make a comeback.

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