According to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), years of overfishing – fueled by very high prices (especially in the sushi market) – have pushed bluefin tuna populations to an all time low. As a result, COSEWIC is advising the federal government to list the bluefin tuna, from the western stock, as an endangered species. And meanwhile, as another example of how disconnected the federal government is, they are trying to increase the amount of bluefin that can be caught.
Atlantic bluefin tuna is Canada’s most economically valuable tuna species. Most bluefin is caught using more sustainable fishing methods off our eastern provinces in both sport and commercial fisheries. Unfortunately, years of mismanagement, and unsustainable practices in other regions, mean that this majestic marine fish is in trouble.
While some east-coast fishers have been seeing more bluefins in recent years, this may not accurately reflect the state of the species on a global scale. Tuna are migratory and sightings may indicate that they are moving, not necessarily that they are more abundant. The federal Department of Fisheries and Ocean (DFO) is currently reviewing the science on bluefin tuna in order to make a recommendation on its “species at risk” status, and the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) will be conducting a new stock assessment in 2015. But one thing’s for sure, the current state of the tuna stock is far from a sustainable level and the health of the bluefin remains in jeopardy.
That’s what makes the federal government’s decision last year to request a quota increase totally shameful. In what is likely a short-term cash grab, the feds seem willing to risk catching and selling the bluefin out of stock. This is a cynical move, which calls into question DFO’s ability to manage Canada’s oceans for the public good. DFO claims that its “policies and programs are delivered in support of Canada's economic, ecological, and scientific interests in the ocean.” However, the decision to move forward with increasing quotas when scientists are ringing the alarm bells threatens both long-term economic opportunities as well as the health of our oceans. And guess what? Canada was the ONLY country publically asking for an increase at last year’s ICCAT meeting. We want Canada to stand out on oceans issues internationally, but not like that.
If the Canadian government is indeed interested in managing our fisheries for the good of present and future generations as it claims, it needs to listen to its own scientists, and wait until bluefin stocks are re-assessed internationally before even considering next steps for the fishery. And above all, the federal government needs to stop being so two-faced. Protect it, fish it, protect it, fish it…it’s an embarrassment. The government owes the public, as well as the species, to for once do better for our marine fish.
For more information about bluefin tuna, and how you can help conserve them, visit