Protecting Bluefin Tuna - Sailors for the Sea

Protecting Bluefin Tuna

By: in part from the Pew Charitable Trust's Marine Conservation Campaign | November 1, 2010

Swift action is needed to protect Atlantic bluefin tuna or it is likely to disappear from our oceans forever.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, seven of the 23 commercially fished tuna species, including bluefin, northern albacore, bigeye and yellowfin, are overfished or depleted.
An additional nine species are on the brink of being overfished. The boats seeking these tuna are responsible for more hooks and nets in the water than any other fishery.

Atlantic bluefin tuna are remarkable animals. They can dive to depths of 500 to 1,000 meters and migrate thousands of kilometers a year between spawning and breeding grounds. Bluefin tuna have captivated the imagination since the time of Aristotle. But since World War II, overfishing, including illegal fishing, facilitated by high-tech fishing techniques and ballooning fishing capacity, has brought populations of these ocean giants precariously close to collapse. The continuing increase in demand for bluefin tuna on the lucrative sushi market has fueled increased catches, while driving this magnificent species toward severe depletion.

International Agreements to Protect Bluefin Tuna

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) was set up in 1966 to manage the fishing of tuna and similar species in the entire Atlantic Ocean and to address other species taken in Atlantic tuna fisheries, including sharks.

But for 30 years, ICCAT has disregarded countless opportunities to sustainably manage Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks. An independent review of ICCAT concluded that the organization’s management of Atlantic bluefin tuna was “an international disgrace.”

In October 2009, ICCAT’s scientists determined that bluefin tuna populations are at less than 15% of their historic size before commercial fishing began – the qualifying threshold for a listing in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). After meeting for 10 days in November 2009, ICCAT refused to end fishing for Atlantic bluefin tuna.

A team from the Pew Environment Group traveled to Doha, Qatar in March 2010, seeking protections for bluefin tuna under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) treaty. The CITES agreement has 175 countries as members and  regulates international trade in threatened and endangered species of animals and plants, and in species that may become threatened, by listing those species on one of three appendices. A proposed Appendix I listing for bluefin tuna would have prohibited international commercial trade in the species.

In addition to seeking protections for bluefin tuna, the Pew Environment Group also advocated for the protection of sharks. Three hammerhead sharks, oceanic whitetips, spiny dogfish, porbeagles, sandbar and dusky sharks were proposed for a CITES Appendix II listing, which would have closely monitored and controlled international trade.

Unfortunately, the CITES meetings concluded without providing any trade protections whatsoever for severely depleted Atlantic bluefin tuna and four vulnerable species of sharks – scalloped hammerhead, oceanic white tip, porbeagle and spiny dogfish.

Most recently, the global bluefin population was significantly threatened by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico – the two remaining, and significantly depleted, bluefin tuna populations are in the Gulf of Mexico and the Mediterranean. Though tuna remains a globally desired dish, current wild stocks may not be able to support this demand for long.

You can make a difference. Follow these steps to create a positive future for the ocean.

Take Action

  • Join this leading community of Green Boaters to save our oceans. 
  • Follow us and spread the message on Facebook and Instagram.
  • Donate to Sailors for the Sea to help educate and activate the sailing and boating community toward improving ocean health.