WASHINGTON, D.C. — A national nonprofit says commercial fishing of Pacific bluefin tuna needs to be suspended for the next two years to give the species a chance to recover its population size.
Pew Charitable Trusts said a two-year moratorium on Pacific bluefin tuna’s commercial fishing activities is necessary to address the species’ diminishing population, a released statement posted on the nonprofit’s website on July 19 read.
“In this year’s stock assessment, scientists found that the [Pacific bluefin tuna] population is at just 2.6 percent of its historic size and that overall fishing mortality remains up to three times higher than is sustainable,” read the statement.
The nonprofit continued regulatory agencies are not doing enough to save the species from going extinct.
“The two international bodies that manage Pacific bluefin [Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, or IATTC, and Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission] have failed for several years to agree on a Pacific-wide recovery plan that will end overfishing and return the population to healthy levels,” Pew Charitable Trusts alleged in its statement. “Projections from the International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-like species in the North Pacific Ocean show that under current conditions, the catch limits now in place have a less than 1 percent chance of successfully rebuilding the population over the next 20 years.”
A resolution was adopted by the IATTC at the commission’s 90th meeting, held June 27-July 1 in La Jolla, expressing concern of Pacific bluefin tuna’s dwindling population.
Reducing the mortality of juvenile Pacific bluefin tuna and rebuilding the spawning stock biomass (SSB) to its historical median by 2024 gives the species a 60 percent chance of recovery, according to the resolution.
“The spawning stock biomass … declined steadily from 1996 to 2010,” IATTC’s resolution stated. “The decline appears to have ceased since 2010, although the stock remains near historically low levels and is experiencing exploitation rates above all calculated biological reference points. If the low recruitment of recent years continues, the risk of the SSB falling below its historically lowest observed level would increase.”
IATTC’s resolution added current management measures and initial rebuilding targets at a public meeting held at Fukuoka, Japan in August.
The commission, according to the resolution, hopes to “reach agreement that the basin-wide rebuilding plan for Pacific bluefin and long-term management framework will be harmonized across the Pacific, and will be designed to return the population to a target reference point to be agreed.”
Pacific bluefin tuna is a highly migratory species with a natural lifespan of about 40 years. The species is commonly found off the coasts of Japan, Mexico and the United States. Commercial fleets from those countries primarily fish the species.
Pew Charitable Trusts stated Pacific bluefin tuna is mostly caught in the western Pacific Ocean (i.e. west of Hawai’i and east of Japan). The tuna species are often used for sashimi or sushi.
“Increasing consumption has pushed the species to the brink of extinction,” Pew Charitable Trusts stated in its op-ed. “The [entire] population … needs effective, science-based catch limits and an appropriate long-term rebuilding and management plan throughout its range, including the eastern Pacific.”
Amanda Nickson, who serves as Pew Charitable Trusts’ director of global tuna conservation, said commercial fishing fleets fish for Pacific bluefin tuna at a rate considered three times faster than what is considered sustainable for the species.
“Scientific estimates have indicated that the population of Pacific bluefin tuna is severely depleted,” stated Nickson.
She said instituting a two-year ban now would both address the species from being overfished and allow its population to recover.
An endangered species petition filed by groups such as Center for Biological Diversity, The Ocean Foundation, Earthjustice, Center for Food Safety and Sierra Club also claimed commercial fisheries, between 2011 and 2013, have fished Pacific bluefin tuna at a rate three times higher than sustainable for the species.
The petition was filed with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and U.S. Department of Commerce.
Nickson continued a trade ban under the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora would have to be implemented if other regulatory agencies do not institute a rebuilding plan by 2018.
She added while commercial fisheries in the U.S. are not the primary culprit of overfishing Pacific bluefin tuna the nation can take the lead in preventing the fish species from going extinct.
“The U.S. portion of the total Pacific bluefin catch is small, usually less than 5 percent of the overall catch, and U.S. commercial fishermen have a very low impact on the stock. Still, the United States, as a member of these international management bodies, has a responsibility to act, and is well placed to catalyze international action, because its fishery managers have moved to limit pressure on the population,” Nickson stated. “Last year, U.S. regulators reduced the number of Pacific bluefin that anglers can bring back from recreational fishing trips while cutting the commercial catch limit by about 40 percent.”