Just a few weeks ago on January 5th, the most expensive Bluefin Tuna on record was sold at Tokyo’s Tsujiki fish market for an astonishing $736,000, about $1,238 per pound. Japanese restaurateur Kiyoshi Kimura, who will be serving the fish in his establishments around Tokyo, purchased the 593-pound giant and felt it was a positive purchase for Japanese morale. While some have recognized this purchase as an encouraging sign for a nation that has been through so much over the past year, the allure of high prices for Bluefin is quite alarming to those concerned with the preservation of this species.
Bluefin Tuna is the most popular fish in the world. It is prized in sushi restaurants for its fatty flesh and also appeals to the health conscious for its high amounts of vitamins A, B6 and B12. With its growing popularity, the Bluefin has become not only one of the most popular fish to eat, but also one of the most over-fished species on the planet. Since the 1960’s, populations of spawning (620 lbs and greater) Bluefin have been steadily decreasing to the point where it is believed that numbers have been diminished to only 3% of its former population- that’s a 97% drop. Over-fishing has even lead to the extinction of the South Atlantic Bluefin around South Africa.
With these fish fetching such high prices at market, there certainly is reason for concern. If the fish is continually promoted as a product for fishermen that will make them large sums of money, the amount of fishing will only increase as the population declines. Allen To, a marine conservation officer at the World Wildlife Fund told the South China Morning Post, “We don’t agree with the use of an over-fished and endangered species as a promotional gimmick.” Paul Watson, the founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, agrees.
You may know Paul from his successful efforts to stop whaling around Antarctica and the Discovery Channel show Whale Wars that documented some of his expeditions. Captain Watson redirected his flagship vessel, the Steve Irwin, to the Mediterranean last year where he successfully prevented the illegal catching of thousands of Bluefin Tuna. While the Sea Shepherds have had some success already in preventing over-fishing, they are still fighting hard to save the Bluefin with their campaign, Operation Blue Rage.
A great amount of attention has always been put on the Bluefin for its prized meat and known state of decline. However, it seems the media attention is not enough for government agencies to help. In March of 2010, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flaura (CITES) rejected a proposed trade ban on Bluefin even though it is a known endangered species. The Bluefin fishing quotas are also set extremely high for a species in decline. The yearly-allotted amount of caught Bluefin is currently set at 13,500 tons by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). Even though this high number has been set, it is not enforced and it is estimated that true number caught is closer to 60,000 tons. With illegal fishing like this, the likelihood of the Bluefin surviving another 10 years is slim.
It is easy to ignore a fish because we do not often consider them when discussing endangered species. We would never consider poaching tigers or polar bears because we know their numbers are slim and we want to preserve species that are considered majestic creatures. The Bluefin Tuna is one of the most amazing and important creatures in the ocean and to ignore it could be detrimental. To preserve the health of our oceans and the future of this species, over-fishing of the Bluefin must stop and the promotion of high prices for the fish has to end. Next time you go out for sushi, consider that your piece of sashimi may be having a greater effect on our oceans than we could have ever imagined.
For more information on what the Sea Shepherds are doing to help save the Bluefin Tuna or to donate, visit seashepherd.org.
Photo credit: noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2008/images/bluefishtuna.jpg