Life After Bluefin Tuna

by chris eaton

November 18, 2009

Greenpeace volunteer Ashley Mirabile wrote the following for her Greenpeace Activist Blog.  I thought it deserved sharing here on the staff blog as well. If you would like to contribute your writing to the Greenpeace USA community, create your own Greenpeace Activist Blog today! -chris

While scooping out bits of meat from a tuna can or using chopsticks to pluck up sushi is an everyday, ordinary occurrence for millions of the world’s population, imagining the species from which that meat was obtained is actually extraordinary. Bluefin tuna, the favored source of a popular Japanese delicacy called sashimi, have the potential to grow to ten feet in length and weigh up to 1,500 pounds. These fish are great swimmers and can reach speeds of 50 miles per hour. Imagine an elephant-sized fish that can swim as fast as a cheetah can run. That’s probably not what you expected to have been eating for lunch today. In fact, bluefin tuna are so spectacular, that in Tokyo, one fish could sell for over $30,000.

However, despite its high cost, the bluefin tuna remain popular amongst human populations (Japan being the largest consumer), while the tuna’s populations are depleting and rapidly approaching extinction because of overfishing.

The amount of bluefin tuna in the Atlantic has decreased by nearly 90% in the past 40 years due to the fact that they are a slow maturing species and are usually caught before they are able to reproduce. Reading these statistics merely sounds unfortunate, but perhaps contemplating a world in which the bluefin tuna does plunder into extinction will be eye-opening.

Already on the eastern coast of the United States, recreational and commercial bluefin tuna fisheries have dried up. Thousands of people whose livelihood depended on catching bluefin tuna have lost their jobs which in turn caused surrounding communities to lose millions of dollars. What kind of devastation would result from a worldwide extinction of tuna?

Bluefin tuna are one of the ocean’s major predators. Their depletion, and their subsequent extinction would have tremendous effects on the remaining ecosystems.

While Japanese fisheries continue to aggressively hunt the remaining stocks of bluefin tuna, increased bycatch is inevitable, particularly with the use of longlines. The populations of other creatures such as sea turtles, sharks, and marine mammals (many of which are already endangered) are placed in peril.

Although the threat of bluefin tuna’s extinction seems to be rapidly approaching, it can be avoided if the right actions are taken. Next year the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species will meet and hopefully ban the illegal trade in bluefin long enough for the population to replenish. Even this, however, is not enough. Greenpeace proposes that in order to preserve the existence of bluefin tuna and countless other endangered marine life, a global network of marine reserves that cover 40% of the world’s oceans needs to be established. While the earth is covered by 70% of water, only 0.5% of our oceans are currently protected. Those areas that are protected, though, produce 200 times as many fish that live longer and therefore grow larger than those of unprotected areas. The species under the protection of a marine reserve have the freedom to mate, feed, and rejuvenate without the threat of capture or habitat destruction.

Sign our petition to help protect the bluefin tuna and to establish global marine reserves that cover 40% of the world’s oceans!

By chris eaton

chris is the Senior Digital Campaigns Manager at Greenpeace USA. He's passionate about building movements and connecting change makers through digital storytelling. Follow him on Twitter at @chr15_eat0n.

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