Atlantic Bluefin Tuna: sustainability at risk
No Hong Kong restaurant group has participated the “Japan One” Bluefin tuna in Tokyo this year. This implies that consumer power can surely play a major role to help the fish’s recovery.
An Oceanic Wonder
Bluefin tuna are one of the great wonders of the world’s oceans. They are the largest tuna species and can live up to 40 years. They can migrate across oceans and dive to depths of greater than 1,200 metres; but driven by the fast-growing pursuit of fine-dining lifestyles, Bluefin tuna have now been largely fished out of existence, just to satisfy humanity’s taste buds. Ocean-lovers around the world are now wondering – is the extinction of the Bluefin tuna inevitable?
There are three species of Bluefin tuna: the Southern Bluefin, found in the Southern Oceans, the Pacific Bluefin tuna and the Atlantic Bluefin found in the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.
Bluefin tuna are impressive from a number of angles. Take the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna as an example: they are giants of the ocean - the fish are typically 2 metres long while some can reach over 4 metres. They are ocean wanderers that never stop swimming, and can swim across the Atlantic in under 60 days with ease. They are fast sprinters too: Atlantic Bluefin can accelerate faster than a sports car and can reach speeds approaching 70km/hour. In terms of their hunting skills, they are voracious predators; Bluefin are placed near the top of the food chain, just under large sharks, toothed whales and by far their biggest predator: human beings.
Threatened by Overfishing
Regrettably, the human appetite for Bluefin tuna has taken a terrible toll on this magnificent creature. Overfishing and illegal fishing across the world have resulted in a huge decline in numbers. Of the three species, the Southern Bluefin tuna and the Atlantic Bluefin tuna are now respectively classified as “Critically Endangered” and “Endangered” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Studies show that the numbers of Atlantic Bluefin have dropped radically over the past 40 years, some saying by at least 51%. Although the Pacific Bluefin tuna is not classified as “Threatened” species yet, a recent modeling analysis and assessment has shown that today the population of adult Pacific Bluefin tuna has declined by a staggering 96% compared to its “un-fished” levels.
In the face of a situation that could result in the total collapse of Bluefin tuna fisheries and possible extinction of the species, international organizations have been set up to conserve the Bluefin; namely, the Atlantic Bluefin tuna International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) for the Atlantic Bluefin and the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT) for the Southern Bluefin.
A Conservation Priority
WWF has been leading an international Bluefin Tuna conservation campaign. Along with other organizations, WWF has been calling for tighter regulations on fisheries – including setting lower fishing quotas and improving fish traceability in trade – to help Bluefin tuna populations recover. After years of advocacy, successful outcomes have been observed internationally.
Scientific assessments presented at the 18th ICCAT conference in late 2012 confirmed an increase in Mediterranean Bluefin tuna stocks after several years of restrictive fishing quotas. WWF was particularly pleased to hear ICCAT’s final decision to keep annual fishing quotas at a low level of 13,500 tonnes from 2013 onwards.
However, these gains aside, unreported trade in Japan continues to hinder the conservation of the Atlantic Bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean. This situation allows illegally fished Atlantic Bluefin tuna consumption to continue to be imported in various regions, Hong Kong being one. Hong Kong consumed a total of 107 metric tonnes of Bluefin tuna in 2011.
Illegally-fished Bluefin in Hong Kong
While it is widely regarded as endangered, the Atlantic Bluefin tuna continues to be sold on the local market. WWF’s “Tuna DNA Study”, released last year, revealed that of 22 samples of Bluefin tuna taken at Hong Kong restaurants and retailers, 12 were identified as Atlantic Bluefin tuna. Worse still, regulation in Hong Kong is lacking, meaning that illegally-fished Atlantic Bluefin tuna can easily find their way onto the Hong Kong market.
What can we do?
Since 2009, WWF-Hong Kong has been campaigning and encouraging Hong Kong restaurants to:
1. Stop promoting the consumption of Bluefin tuna.WWF welcomes the fact that no Hong Kong restaurants bid on the “Japan One” Bluefin tuna this year or last year. This particular fish is a giant-sized Bluefin tuna sold every New Year Day and sought after by seafood dealers worldwide at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, Japan.
2. Stop purchasing or serving all species of Bluefin tuna.
3. Businesses which have yet to steer clear of Bluefin tuna should request that their suppliers present catch documentation issued by the respective Regional Fisheries Management Organization (e.g. ICCAT for the Atlantic Bluefin tuna; CCSBT for the Southern Bluefin tuna) to ensure that the Bluefin tuna they are buying is fished legally and is caught within agreed fishing quotas.
As individual, you can also contribute to saving this endangered fish. There are an increasing number of sustainable tuna products available on the market. Consumers should look for tuna with MSC certification, for example, MSC certified Albacore Tuna which is caught in Canada and Fiji. Switching to consuming sustainable tuna products will help reduce the pressure on other overfished tuna populations.
Individuals can also pledge to become a Bluefin Saver, and follow WWF’s Seafood Guide to make greener choices when enjoying seafood.
By working together, we can help turn the fate of all Bluefin species around and reverse the degradation of marine ecosystems across the planet.