Friday, June 25, 2010

Troubled Tuna & What's Up with the Japanese

As noted in previous posts, BP's catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico could not have happened at a worse time. It is breeding and spawning time in the Gulf of Mexico for many marine species including the bluefin tuna. What is more vulnerable to suffocating gobs of oil, not to mention questionable toxic dispersants, than an adult of a species? A newborn.

So imagine the fingernail-sized bluefin tuna larvae (infant fish) swimming around in those plumes of oil. The bluefin tuna spawn from April to end of May exactly where BP's undersea oil geyser is gushing. Add into that the already severely depleted bluefin tuna population due to overfishing. 

"Thanks to 4 decades of overfishing, it (bluefin tuna) has been driven to just 3% of its 1960 or pre-longlining abundance - a decline of 97%," according to Jack Cashman, a fisherman.

It is clear the bluefin tuna are in deep trouble.

That is why one environmental group, Center for Biological Diversity, recently called for listing the bluefin tuna as endangered. Sounds good. Let's give the tuna a break. I would like to enjoy them as a sustainable seafood in the future, and I would like to know that the awesome, powerful fish continues to roam the seas and contribute to healthy marine ecosystems as a top predator.

But if past moves to protect tuna are any indication of how successful this petition will be, don't bet on it. Too many people are making very good money -- a single adult fish can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Besides, the Japanese seem determined to fish the bluefin tuna until there are none left.

This past March, the nation of Monaco proposed a trade ban on bluefin tuna at the meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. The petition was completely rejected.

“I’m very disappointed, as a former tuna fisherman and as a conservationist, at the inability of countries to cooperate and make decisions in the interests of everyone,” Carl Safina said at the time, according to a story by Frank Nelson in Miller-Mcune. Carl Safina is president and co-founder of the Blue Ocean Institute.

Other past efforts to protect bluefin have been swamped by an inability to form international consensus. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama both sought to limit overfishing, but have been unsuccessful, according to the New York Times.

The only optimism is that the fish know that BP's oil is dangerous. An important question is whether the bluefin's instinct to spawn in their traditional waters will override their sense of smell, according to AOL News.

So maybe since we can't seem to help the fish at all, the fish will help themselves. That would be great.

What's Up with the Japanese?

The Japanese are making headlines lately around whaling and bluefin tuna. It's usually in the context of leading the opposition to conservation measures.

I have trouble understanding this. They love to eat bluefin tuna, it's practically part of their national identity. I understand that -- it is amazingly delicious. But with Japan like a mad juggernaut of demand for the fish, there won't be any tuna left to eat in the near future. Sure, they'll find a few more out there but a plate of sashimi will be out of reach of most everyone except the ultra-rich.

In 2007 Japan said it imported 32,356 metric tons of bluefin, while that nation's own vessels operating in the East Atlantic and Mediterranean brought in 2,078 metric tons that year. That is by far the world leader in consumption. They seem determined to fish the fish into commercial extinction.

Why not fish in such a way that there will be tuna next year, and ten years from now? In the case of the bluefin tuna, let's err on the side of conservation and give the fish time to recover.

Of course, it's a generalization to say all Japanese. When I say "they" above, I mean the Japanese people that fish, sell, buy, and eat blue fin tuna.

In the case of whaling, the Japanese recently shot down a ban on whaling and are trying to put a Sea Shepard whaling activist in jail. Maybe we just have to write them off. One cannot expect much from a country whose former lead whaling negotiator, Masayuki Komatsu, once referred to the cetacean nation (whales are cetaceans) as the "cockroaches of the sea," according to Deborah Bassett on her Huffington Post. Read her whole post here, she does a good job of showing how Japan is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Anyway, why not just leave those magnificent leviathans alone?

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