Bluefin tuna stocks on verge of collapse

This species is ranked by the World Conservation Union as critically endangered. South Pacific, Atlantic and Mediterranean stocks are all on the verge of collapse.

Tuna are largely captured by surface longline hooks, thousand of which are set on lines that are set over many miles. This method encourages capture of seabirds, particularly endangered albatross.

Other animals caught unintentionally as ‘by-catch’ in this fishery are sharks, New Zealand seals, turtles and other pelagic species of fish.

‘Tuna-Ranching’ also takes place in the Mediterranean, where schools of tuna are spotted by planes, trapped alive in purse seine nets, towed ashore, fattened for several months in cages, killed, frozen and flown to Japan. Some species of yellow-fin tuna are also trapped in this way.

Due to their scarcity, blue fin tuna are very valuable. The main market is in Japan where it is highly prized for sashimi and sushi, however sales are increasing in US and Canada, particularly with the advance of sushi bars and ‘fast sushi bars’ in these countries.

Almost all large bluefins are shipped to Japan where they can fetch very high prices. An individual 444 pound bluefin sold for a record US$173,000 in Tokyo in 2001. The export value of all tuna species combined was $42 million in 2002.

Stocks continue to decline. Greenpeace recently spent a week with the French and Spanish fleets around the Balearic islands. They did not catch a single tuna. It is the same story to the north of Egypt. Some fish are being found to the south of Turkey but they are small. A catastrophe is in the making.

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