Considered by many to be the ultimate big game fish — and unquestionably the most valuable to commercial fishermen — the majestic bluefin tuna suffered another setback last week en route to what to may be its extinction.
In a decision that has baffled and infuriated conservationists around the world, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), approved a 2009 catch limit of 22,000 tons, far exceeding the 8,500-15,000 tons limit recommended by its own scientists.
Moreover, ICCAT scientists recommended a moratorium during the spawning season (May and June) which the body also ignored, allowing commercial catches through June 20.
According to the Independent, the decision was largely the result of efforts on the part of the European Union, which pushed for even higher limits and threatened trade sanctions against nations inclined to support reduced catches and the spawning moratorium.
The EU is representing the interests of several countries who have big fishing fleets hunting the multi-million-dollar bonanza that the annual catch represents. In the lead are the French, with about 600 tuna boats, followed by the Italians, who have a fleet of about 200 vessels. It is thought that half the Italian fleet may be unlicensed boats, especially those from Calabria in southern Italy, and Sicily, where Mafia connections to some of the fishing operations are strongly suspected. Algeria, Croatia, Greece, Libya, Malta, Spain, Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey are other countries with tuna fishing fleets.
â€œThis is not a decision, it is a disgrace which leaves WWF little choice but to look elsewhere to save this fishery from itself,â€ said Dr Sergi Tudela, head of WWF Mediterraneanâ€™s fisheries program.
Driving the demand for the fatty, 6-feet long, 500-800 lb. bluefin is the voracious Japanese appetite for sushi and the fattier, the better. To a lesser extent, the already highdemand has been exacerbated by the rising popularity of sushi in the U.S.
Depending upon fat content and weight, the price of a single bluefin ranges from $2,000 to $20,000. According to National Geographic, a prime, 444-lb. bluefin sold for a record $173,600 in 2001 at a Japanese market.
An opinion piece appearing in the New York Times, November, 2007, may have summed up the situation best:
The hunting of highly valued animals into oblivion is a symptom of human foolishness that many consign to the unenlightened past, like the 19th century, when bird species were wiped out for feathered hats and bison were decimated for sport. But the slaughter of the giant bluefin tuna is happening now.
That was two years ago. Apparently, we’re now living in the unenlightened present.