Pacific bluefin tuna still overfished

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Pacific bluefin tuna fishing stock is still struggling to maintain a sustainable population, the National Marine Fisheries Service – or NMFS – stated in a Federal Register determination.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) posted a notice of the NMFS finding on the official federal ruling database. Pacific bluefin tuna was one of four fish stocks to be listed as subject to overfishing or overfished, according to the April 19 federal notice.

“A 2014 assessment determined that this stock was subject to overfishing and in an overfished condition,” the NMFS notice of determination stated. “This latest determination is based on a 2016 assessment conducted by the International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-like Species in the North Pacific Ocean, in conjunction with NOAA scientists.”

NFMS’s determination allows section 304(i) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act to take effect. The section allows the Secretary of Commerce to take “appropriate action at the international level to end the overfishing” and “develop recommendations for domestic regulations to address the relative impact of fishing vessels of the United States on the stock” within one year of the determination.

“NMFS has determined that section 304(i) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act applies because (1) the overfishing and overfished condition of Pacific bluefin tuna in the North Pacific Ocean is due largely to excessive international fishing pressure, and (2) there are no management measures (or efficiency measures) to end overfishing under an international agreement to which the United States is a party,” the NMFS notice stated.

NOAA issued a final rule two days after the NMFS determination to limit the commercial catch of Pacific bluefin tuna by United States fishing vessels for 2017 and 2018. The final rule goes into effect May 22.

Federal officials formally notified Western Pacific Fishery Management Council and Pacific Fishery Management Council of the determination and “their obligations for international and domestic management under Magnuson-Stevens Act.”

“The councils must develop recommendations for domestic regulations to address the relative impact of the domestic fishing fleet on the stock, and develop recommendations to the Secretary of State and Congress for international actions to end overfishing and rebuild the Pacific bluefin tuna in the North Pacific Ocean,” NMFS staff stated in the agency’s April 19 notice.

Some fishing advocates, in response to federal officials state Pacific bluefin tuna are being overfished and environmental organizations stating the species is on the verge of extinction, argue the state of the predatory fish is not as dire as advertised.

Federal policymakers and environmentalists are forecasting the state of Pacific bluefin tuna based on incomplete data, according to opponents of restrictions placed on the fishery.

A reported published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) journal in February 2016 claimed decisions to declare Atlantic bluefin tuna as overfished and near extinction were not based on examining the entire fishery. Instead the policymaking was based upon a study of only two spawning areas, according to the study.

“[The] complexity of spawning migrations questions whether there is complete independence in the dynamics of eastern and western Atlantic bluefin tuna and leads to lower estimates of the vulnerability of this species to exploitation and other anthropogenic stressors,” authors of the February 2016 Atlantic bluefin tuna report in PNAS stated.

Factoring in other spawning grounds, authors of the report stated, could alter the way the fishery is managed by federal officials.

“Atlantic bluefin tuna support a highly contentious international fishery, and our results present an alternate life history model to inform the management of this species,” the report’s authors stated. “The implications of our work are most pronounced for western Atlantic bluefin tuna, which have a life history less vulnerable to overexploitation and extinction than is currently estimated.”

The PNAS-published report, whether conclusive or not, could be used to suggest NMFS, NOAA, Western Pacific Fishery Management Council and Pacific Fishery Management Council officials to alter their collective assessment of the bluefin tuna stock between East Asia and the Western United States.

NOAA photo

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