July 22, 2009
Bluefin Tuna Species Racing Toward Extinction

A Wired article reports on efforts of scientists to breed and raise tuna in captivity in order to save wild tuna from extinction. While the scientific results in Australia and elsewhere look promising the news about tuna in the wild looks pretty grim.

News of breeding success comes with the three bluefin species — Northern, Southern and Pacific — speeding towards extinction, the victim of something close to a marine version of the 19th century buffalo slaughter. In the last 30 years, bluefin populations around the world have collapsed. Fishing fleets with spotter planes have chased ever-smaller, ever-younger fish, catching them at sea and hauling them to shoreline pens to be fattened and killed before they’re even old enough to reproduce.

The tuna sells for very high prices and the tuna stocks are heading toward collapse.

That’s left the seas nearly barren of breeding-age bluefin. In April, the World Wildlife Federation declared that current overfishing rates would cause an irreversible collapse of Northern bluefin within three years. The Southern is considered critically endangered, and it’s thought that any increase in fishing pressure will put the Pacific on a track to oblivion.

In my recent review of $20 Per Gallon: How the Inevitable Rise in the Price of Gasoline Will Change Our Lives for the Better by Chistopher Steiner I did not mention his section on the high energy intensity of an international tuna fishing industry that ships expensive tuna via air freight - mostly to Japan. Steiner expects oil prices to push up the cost of air freight for fish so high that the Japanese will stop depleting fish species around the world for sushi. Unfortunately, Steiner puts this collapse of the world tuna market in $16 per gallon chapter. I think that'll come too late if the report above paints an accurate picture.

As the Wired article above reports, the Japanese consume 75% of the bluefin tuna caught in the oceans. Their driving of this fish to the edge of extinction hasn't lessened their ardor for bluefin. At the same time, exhaustion of oil reserves will come too late to save tuna. We humans need to support stronger political restrictions on overfishing of tuna and other fish species. We need to loudly tell the Japanese (and sushi eaters in Western countries) find something else to eat instead.

Update: James Joseph of the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) says in a New Scientist piece that while the bluefin tuna species are threatened most other tuna species are in far better shape.

Of the remaining three overfished stocks, North Atlantic albacore is recovering and is nearly back to its optimum level; the eastern Pacific bigeye stock is slightly overfished, but management measures due to be implemented this year may allow it to rebuild; and yellowfin in the Indian Ocean may recover thanks to recent pirate activity, which has led many vessels to leave the area.

The other tuna stocks are reasonably healthy. Three of the six fully utilised stocks are at risk of becoming overfished, but conservation measures are being put in place. Overall, about 90 per cent of tuna catches come from stocks that are not overfished.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 July 22 06:53 PM  Trends Extinction


Comments
Mthson said at July 22, 2009 8:22 PM:

Lab-grown meat will probably help. ("Will Lab-Grown Meat Save the Planet?" Slate, 2008.)

John said at July 23, 2009 7:05 AM:

I'm amazed at how the Japanese culture or society has developed such high aesthetics in particular aspects of their environment, such as their personal living environments, can be so completely and absolutely aesthetically and morally bankrupt in seemingly related aspects, other creatures in their living environment.

Simplicity, complexity, and the wagasa vs. Whaling in Japan, which they as a society claim is "for research".

The society functions as if their focus on great aesthetic development in one area absolves them of debauchery in a related, much like the religious who by fervent confession on Sunday receive complete absolution of their sins for the previous week, a cycle they repeat in the next.

Nick G said at July 23, 2009 9:04 AM:

The society functions as if their focus on great aesthetic development in one area

I'm not an expert on Japan, but this reminds me of discussions about India, in which it has seemed pretty clear that the Indian intellectual heritage doesn't touch the daily lives of most Indians. I've also heard the amusement of Japanese at American movies which feature things like Geisha girls as something relevant to everyday Japanese life.

I wonder if Japan is the same way: a deep heritage of aesthetic development that has little to do with the daily lives of most Japanese?

DensityDuck said at July 23, 2009 2:47 PM:

Nick G: It's more likely that they just don't give two shits. The Japanese, for all their racist protestations against being Orientals, have a very Eastern outlook on the world. Once all the whales and fish are gone, they'll just pretend like there never _were_ any whales or fish.

Mike Gebert said at July 23, 2009 3:07 PM:

I just did a video documentary about the increasing acceptance of sustainable fish practices in the restaurant industry here in Chicago; Cleanfish, a sustainable fish broker which is one of the companies marketing the sustainable farmed bluefin, is featured in the documentary. They have guarded hope for bluefin but the picture is certainly dire. You can watch it here: http://www.vimeo.com/5723667

Hoolie said at July 23, 2009 3:26 PM:

They could eat some pussy, it smells similar.

annoyed Marylander said at July 23, 2009 3:44 PM:

Tuna are not the only stocks being overfished. Roughy, for example, live over 100 years and reproduce very slowly. It hasn't taken much fishing to crash their stocks, too.

And it's not just overfishing. The Chesapeake Bay's crabs, oysters, and well, everything are at historic lows due to de-oxygenation of the water caused by algae blooms fed by chicken waste runoff from farms in Maryland. You get cheap chicken, we get a dead Bay. Everybody knows what the problem is, but Maryland won't fix it because the chicken producers have a strong lobby.

Nick G said at July 23, 2009 4:31 PM:

DensityDuck,

How does that relate to what I said?

matt said at July 23, 2009 4:47 PM:

having photographed and studied Tsukiji for the past several years, it is truly amazing the aura of reverence and ceremony the process holds for the Japanese. They will do so until the last tuna is auctioned, and then write haikus lamenting the lost spirits of the fish and then genetically engineer their own stock of biobruefin.

Billy Oblivion said at July 23, 2009 5:37 PM:

How often (as a ratio of accurate/total predictions) has the World Wildlife Federation been right?

Thought so.

Don Meaker said at July 23, 2009 5:41 PM:

The other aspect of fishery use that has to be investigated and reported is the consumption of fish by wildlife. At one time (a few years ago) 5/6ths of all tunafish consumed were killed and eaten by narwhale. One way to help bring back tuna populations is to control the populations of animals which eat them. One, but only one of these species are humans. The others include marlin and narwhale. There is already a sport fishing industry that targets marlin. Narwale have a very interesting tusk/tooth that would be an interesting trophy.

W.M. Dix said at July 23, 2009 7:20 PM:

Don:

I'm afraid that the wildlife consumption aspect is not the cause here. In this case sadly the blame sadly enough rests on human over consumption of an resource. To be brief management of fisheries is for all practical purposes nonexistent or when existent so utterly politicized as to be worse than useless. Also the industrialized fisheries have unfortunately gotten to efficient at fishing for their own good. A good analogy to bear in mind is the case of the American buffalo in the 19th century and it's near extinction due to out of control hunting. And to tell the truth the majority of fisheries can be considered a hunt.

Also unfortunately a major percentage of the commercially valuable species are top pf the food chain species which have unfortunately been over exploited to the degree of actually wiping out entire fisheries. See the case of the Atlantic cod fishery which has for all purposes been wiped out by over harvesting. Also note that the average size of fish in the blue fin tuna fishery has been progressively declining which parallels the decline in the average size of the Cod fishery in the Atlantic.

At this point we would be far better of declaring a blanket moratorium in harvesting of certain fishes till populations recover to a degree that they will be able to support a limited commercial harvest with strict catch limits.

Tom Bri said at July 24, 2009 3:19 AM:

Re Japan. I lived there 15 years, even ate whale once (ordered it by accident in a restaurant. It was awful). Most Japanese don't eat whale. It is quite expensive and definitely an acquired taste. Current levels of whaling don't seem likely to be a problem.

Tuna is something else. I expect the Japanese to continue eating tuna until they are effectively gone.

Whale eating and tuna eating are related in one way. Neither is a longstanding traditional food. Japan had no deep water fishery until the modern era, only coastal fishing. They ate small whales and dolphins that could be taken from small boats, and they ate whatever fish could be caught close to shore.

Years age the Sea Shepherds used to ram Japanese whaling boats. I wonder where they are now and what they are doing about the tuna.

Roger Godby said at July 24, 2009 9:08 AM:

If you want the Japanese line, they have always eaten whales (old scroll paintings here and there, especially in Kochi Prefecture, sure indicate that). After WW2, the US encouraged people to eat whale: cheap, plentiful, familiar (unlike the GIs' free cheese my in-laws threw away as kids), and full of protein. A whole generation grew up on it then largely dumped it. Why? Hell if I know, but my guess is (1) whale meat is a postwar poverty reminder, (2) whale actually tastes bad (I've eaten it twice), (3) whale meat smells bad, and (4) beef and other critters began to appear or re-appear in the affordable range.

Now whale has become costly because it's off-limits. My question: How long will it be before whale becomes the new gourmet meat in Japan, then slowly to everywhere else? Sorry, a second: How many Japanese order whale just because they know it causes some foreigner(s) to get their knickers in a twist?

The Japanese baseball team the Taiyo Whales changed their name a few years ago. Times changed, so they did too.

Any chance of the EU (in particular) cutting subsidies to its fishing fleets while we're at it? And where are those pelagic giant floating spherical fish farms with GPS nav units and timed feeders? I recall lots of terror over Frankenfish salmon, but that's largely died away. Is Frankentuna on the way?

averros said at July 25, 2009 1:38 AM:

The fucking European eco-morons are trying to prohibit tuna farming. Needless to say, farming is the only way to both satisfy demand, and preserve wild stock.

There is no shortage of fish. There's a shortage of brains.

DJ said at July 28, 2009 12:49 PM:

Tuna is delicious.

Matthew Watkinson said at October 7, 2009 11:29 PM:

"We need not marvel at extinction; if we must marvel, let it be at our own presumption in imagining for a moment that we understand the many complex contingencies on which the existence of each species depends." – Charles Darwin, On The Origin Of Species.

For more information on the conflict between conservation (the preservation of unfavoured races) and Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection (the elimination of unfavoured races), please visit www.destinyofspecies.com

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