Limits on Bluefin Tuna could be in store

By: Parimal M. Rohit

With the rapidly depleting population of bluefin tuna in the Pacific Ocean, the Pacific Fishery Management Council unanimously voted on Sept. 15 to review a state proposal to impose a two-bluefin-per-angler-per-day possession limit.

The two-fish bag limit, which would apply to recreational fishing, will be discussed again in November.

The Sept. 15 vote does not officially change any restrictions on bluefin, but it does indicate that regulatory officials are paying attention to what many circles are reportedly claiming is an overfishing of tuna.

Currently, anglers have a 10-fish bag limit.

According to Kit Dahl of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the state’s proposed limitation would not only limit anglers to two bluefin per day but also restrict them to six bluefin with a three-day limitation. Anglers would have to provide documentation that their six-bluefin catch actually occurred in at least three days.

A proposal to review a three-fish bag limit was rejected.

If ultimately approved, the new restrictions – which could include alternatives on processing fish on boats – would only apply to bluefin.

Dahl told FishRap in an email that a recent population assessment of bluefin showed the species of tuna was “near historically low levels and experiencing high exploitation rates.”

“The problem as identified by scientists is high catches of juvenile fish (not yet sexually mature) which for practical purposes at the international management level are defined as fish less than 30 kilograms (66 pounds),” Dahl said. “Bluefin reach maturity in the range of four to six years old.”

Whether the proposed regulations will help restore the bluefin population remains to be seen.

Dahl said that recreational catches of bluefin tuna within the United States “represents a very small proportion of the total fishing impact on the stock … in the range of less than one percent to four percent.”

According to Dahl, the highest number of bluefin is caught in Japan, followed by Mexico. The Monterey Bay Aquarium stated a fully-grown Atlantic bluefin could sell in Japan for $100,000 or more.

“Tuna is the second most popular seafood worldwide,” the Monterey Bay Aquarium stated on its website, adding “since the 1960s, the abundance of tuna … [has] decreased globally by up to 90 percent.”

In a section on its website entitled “Revealing Tuna Secrets,” the Monterey Bay Aquarium stated greater efforts and measures are needed to sustain the bluefin population while still allowing for recreational anglers and commercial fisheries to continue fishing for tuna.

“Experts warn that without concerted efforts to reduce overfishing and restore depleted stocks, tuna stocks will continue to decline,” according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. “Bluefin are highly migratory, which means many nations, including the U.S. and Japan, need to cooperate on management plans to maintain global populations.”

In the realm of commercial fisheries, NOAA reportedly published new requirements to help protect giant bluefin, which can grow to be as large as or larger than humans.

One group responsible for managing multilateral efforts of tuna and other fish regulations between the area just east of the Hawaiian Islands and west toward Japan is the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission’s Northern Committee. According to Dahl, the committee adopted “a multi-year rebuilding plan for bluefin which requires countries to half their catch of bluefin less than 30 kilograms.”

The Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission is the governing body responsible for international management in the eastern Pacific Ocean and will be meeting in La Jolla in October to discuss how to develop and adopt a population rebuilding plan similar to what the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission’s Northern Committee adopt.

“We’re quite encouraged that the council recognized the dire straits this fishery remains in,” said Paul Shively, manager of U.S. Oceans (Pacific) at Pew Charitable Trusts. “It’s a fishery in trouble. This is really not about pointing fingers at anyone. Everyone needs to be part of the solution.”

Shively added that Pew Charitable Trusts had campaigned for a one-fish bag limit, but the two-fish limit was a positive first step in helping repopulate the Pacific Ocean’s bluefin population.

“This is really about juvenile fish. They are not of spawning age. Too many adult fish have been taken. Now there is a desperation to allow juvenile transition into adulthood,” Shively said, adding strict regulations now could eventually resulted in higher bag limits for future generations of fishers.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council will revisit whether to adopt a new policy on bluefin catch limits for anglers at its next meeting, which is set for Nov. 14 to 19 at the Hilton Orange County in Costa Mesa.

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