25 August 2009

end of the line?

I'm writing my thesis on The Legal Methods to Conserve the Bluefin Tuna from Extinction - it is driving me a little crazy due to the lack of information on the topic and evidence of continued apathy not only from governing bodies but also from governments, retailers and canning companies.

According to World Wildlife Fund, the Atlantic bluefin tuna will be wiped out completely by 2012 if we don't halt fishing. The spawning population of the western Atlantic bluefin has declined 80% in the past 40 years. In 2008 the combined national fleets of Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal, and Spain exceeded their international catch quota for bluefin by 25%—driven in part by the lucrative Japanese market, where a single 600kg fish can fetch $100,000.

The decline in Bluefin stocks started with the explosion of sushi restaurants in the 90s - traditionally only eaten in Japan it is now consumed the world over. Japan still consumes 80% of all tuna caught and imports it from the Meditteranean. Tuna also gained popularity because it is an easy absorbed source of protein which is easy to prepare and cooks fast. It is also widely recommended by doctors due to beneficial fatty acids it contains.

All 23 identified, commercially exploited stocks of tuna are heavily fished, with at least nine classified as fully fished and a further four classified as overexploited or depleted. International tuna treaty parties like ICCAT (International Commission for Conservation of the Atlantic Tuna) have totally failed to come up with ways to cap fishing capacity and are making only slow progress in reducing illegal fishing and overfishing and bycatch of other marine life, according to the new assessment by WWF.

The tuna is a keystone predator species and it is at the top of the ocean food chain and the health of the oceans very much depends on species like this. I have previously blogged about the importance of apex predators with reference to sharks. The movie that depicts the plight of the tuna and calls it the 'new blue whale' is also called End of the Line. It is a powerful story about how fishing corporations are destroying the ocean's wealth.

Mis-management of fisheries, unsustainable fishing methods, illegal fishing and lack of awareness has all led to the predicament of the ocean's dimishing stocks. Consumer awareness plays a hugely important role in choosing the right kind of food to eat. Tinned tuna is the mostly widely easten form of tuna in the US and UK. Certain retailers like Marks and Spencers and Sainburys have also become pro-active in their search and supply for sustainably fished tuna. Greenpeace, WWF and Oceana recommend that only pole and line caught skipjack tuna should be consumed, This fishing method reduces the amount of bycatch and improves socio-economic conditions of small fishermen.

Tuna fishing is a multi-billion dollar industry and this has raised the stakes for conservation. This also had led to increase in illegal fishing which reults in more tuna being caught than the numbers being officially declared. It has also led to the rise of tuna ranching which is catching juvenile tuna and fattening them in pens near the shore - this results in coastal pollution and these 'aquaculture' farms receive heavy government subsidies in the EU.

The situation is very bleak but if stringent measures are put in place now, it may not be the end of the line for this majestic fish.

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