Monday, March 11, 2013

Rant: Wake Up Japan, Bluefin Are In Danger!

"The oceans deserve our respect and care, but you have to know something before you can care about it."
--Sylvia Earle

The International Boston Seafood Show began yesterday, a huge seafood event bringing together people from all over the world. I plan on being there all three days, learning more about seafood issues, tasting new products, networking and much more. And gathering fodder for new Monday Rants.

Yesterday, I attended the Species Forum on Tuna, a conference intended to describe the current status of tuna fisheries. As the fate of tuna is a significant issue, the one hour set aside for this conference could barely scratch the surface of the matter. A good-sized crowd showed up for the conference, indicating a substantial interest in the subject of tuna. I was especially curious after a prior post of mine indicated that bluefin stock might have seen an increase.

The first speaker was Michael Crispino, the Vice Present of Communications & Outreach for the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF). He provided some statistics on the tuna industry, noting that there are 7 species of tuna, divided into 23 stocks, and that about 4,354,600 tons of tuna are caught worldwide each year. Skipjack account for 57% of that total, Yellow Fin for 26%, Big Eye for 10%, Albacore for 5%, and Bluefin for only 1%.  These stocks are managed by five Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs), identified as IATTC, ICCAT, IOTC, WCPFC, and CCSBT.

Purse seine fishing is the most common method of catching tuna and accounts for 62% of the global catch. Long line accounts for 13% of the global catch while pole & line accounts for another 11%. The top producer of tuna is likely Thailand and a few of the other top producers include Spain, Ecuador, and Seychelles. The top importers include the U.S., UK, and Spain. Though we should note that Japan consumes nearly 80% of bluefin tuna.

Michael noted that the overall stock of most tuna species is not well and that we possess the ability to catch more tuna than is sustainable. The management process requires improvement too. Transparency is also important to the marketplace.

Jennifer Goldstein, a Senior Wild Fisheries Specialist from the New England Aquarium, noted that illegal tuna fishing still occurs which coincides with one of my prior posts that noted that between 2000 and 2010, nearly 19,000 tons of Bluefin tuna were traded through Panama, though none of that tuna was reported as caught to ICCAT. Action needs to be taken to punish the involved countries for this illegal activity. If that is not done, then such illegal fishing will continue, ignoring the quotas that exist. Jennifer also said that everyone who work in the tuna industry needs to be an optimist, essentially hopeful that the species can be saved.

Dr. Bill Fox, the Vice President & Managing Director of Fisheries for the World Wildlife Fund US spoke briefly about the resilience of tuna. Though it was a bit technical, it seems that tuna are fairly resilient, which gives much hope if we can better control our fishing of tuna species. It is not yet too later for any species, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be taking better action to protect them.

The final speaker was Howard McElderry, the Vice President and Director of Electronic Monitoring at the Archipelago Marine Research Ltd., discussed the use of cameras and electronic monitoring of fishing activity. He stated that such monitoring is necessary and the best practice to determine the amount of tuna stocks and that "technology is an agent for accountability." It helps to demonstrate traceability and its accuracy will best help maintain stocks at sustainable levels. I certainly agree with all of his statements, that science is necessary to best determine accurate stock levels.

The panel as a whole also addressed the problem of bycatch, noting that there is "no silver bullet" to eliminate bycatch. Bycatch is an important element of sustainability yet all fishing methods lead to some degree of bycatch. To best combat the bycatch problem, a fishery by fishery approach is necessary.

The issue of consumer perceptions and buying patterns of tuna was not discussed, despite its significance to the problem of deplete tuna species. This was likely partially due to the limited time of the panel and might have even been outside their limited goal for this discussion. However, most people in the industry realize that  tuna stocks have problems so it might have been more valuable to discuss more ways to help reduce the great demand for tuna, especially bluefin.

As I mentioned earlier, the Japanese consume about 80% of the world's bluefin tuna and they are unlikely to decrease that consumption any time soon. There is also evidence that when U.S. consumption decreases, that leads to an increase in Japanese consumption. The Huffington Post recently detailed the problem, stating that the average Japanese consumer knows little about any issues with vanishing bluefin. The media and government both do little to make consumers aware of the problem. The few actions the government has taken seem largely ineffective and far much more is necessary. As long as there is a great Japanese demand for bluefin, international actions to protect that species will be ineffective to some degree, and that could end up being a fatal degree.

So wake up Japan! The bluefin tuna is in grave peril so the time to take action is now.


TreasureMA said...

Such an important issue. I'm glad you're bringing more attention to it.

Richard Auffrey said...

Thanks, it is still something that doesn't get enough attention.