Tuna Protection Needed

Increased protection urgently needed for tunas and billfish

Canned tuna, tuna steaks, tuna sashimi – no matter how you eat it, tuna is one of the most popular choices for fish consumption. But a paper released earlier this month suggests that the high demand for some species of tuna is endangering their future. In a first-time collaboration between international fishery scientists, ichthyologists and conservationists, a new study by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has revealed that five of the eight known species of tuna are threatened or near threatened.

The assessment, released July 7, 2011, is entitled High Value and Long Life – Double Jeopardy for Tunas and Billfishes. Reflecting the double threat of a thriving commercial market for their meat and long gestation periods for their young, the article highlights the challenges facing scombrid (tunas, bonitos, mackerels, and Spanish mackerels) and billfish (swordfish and marlin) species. Using the criteria of the IUCN Red List for Endangered Species, the paper listed Southern bluefin (Thunnus maccoyii) as Critically Endangered, Atlantic bluefin (T. thynnus) as Endangered, bigeye (T. obesus) as Vulnerable and yellowfin (T. albacares)  and albacore (T. alalunga)  as Near Threatened. The biggest threats are commercial overfishing and a lack of international resolve to protect multinational fisheries.

“All three bluefin tuna species are susceptible to collapse under continued excessive fishing pressure.  The Southern Bluefin has already essentially crashed, with little hope of recovery,” says Dr. Kent Carpenter, Professor at Old Dominion University, manager of IUCN’s Marine Biodiversity Unit and an author of the paper. “If no changes are made to current fishing practices, the western Atlantic Bluefin stocks are at risk of collapse as they are showing little sign that the population is rebuilding following a significant reduction in the 1970s.”

IGFA Conservation Director Jason Schratwieser was a member of the assessment panel and had this to say: "In addition to high dollar fish such as tunas that are in trouble, blue and white marlin are now listed as vulnerable. These and other billfish species are greatly esteemed by recreational anglers and support vibrant catch and release fisheries that generate billions of dollars in revenue annually."

Double Jeopardy for Tunas and Billfishes concludes by suggesting that “the future of threatened scombrids and billfishes rests in the ability of [Regional Fishery Management Organizations] and fishing nations to properly manage these species.” Increased protection is urgently needed for tunas as well as billfish, and the new IUCN Red List assessments offer RFMOs more evidence for improving their management and protecting some of the world’s most valuable fishery resources.

Download High Value and Long Life – Double Jeopardy for Tunas and Billfishes here.

The IGFA has long advocated a listing for bluefin tuna on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Click here to read a proposal made by the IGFA at the most recent meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) to protect bluefin spawning areas. The IGFA is also heavily involved in increasing protections for marlin, sailfish and spearfish species with legislation through the Marlin off the Menu campaign.

Questions about tuna, billfish, or species protection? IGFA Conservation Director Jason Schratwieser can be reached via [email protected].