The infamous line from the end of Douglas Adams’ “Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” rings over and over through my mind as I sit down to write this story.

A few days ago we had a rare opportunity to experience diving with over a thousand of the oceans greatest creations, bluefin tuna. Like the shark, nature has been busy perfecting itself over the past millennia. The streamline design of this incredible creature is surely where the airline designers of the Airbus 380 took their inspirations. A huge muscular, stocky body that can move through water with a minimal resistance or effort, capable of burst of speed of over 45mph when hunting, the bluefin tuna is at the top of it’s league.

Hundreds of Blue Fin Tuna Blue Fin Tuna

Sadly it’s also top of the menu in most sushi restaurants worldwide. It’s prized succulent flesh fetches astronomical prices at the Tsukiji Market’s daily auction in Tokyo. To provide for the appetites of predominantly Japan, fish stocks worldwide are being harvested in a un-precedented and un-sustainable rate. The bluefin tuna now pivots on the edge of extinction. What hope does this species have when the very organization charged with their care (ICCAT), completely overrules the advice of their own scientists and allows the legal catch to be twice what is considered sustainable. At the current catch rate the WWF has predicted that Atlantic & Mediterranean bluefin populations will become extinct by 2012, although it is believed by many that we could have already lost the spawning stock back in 2007, meaning it is now just a matter of time.

A single fish can weigh more than 600kg and fetch up to US$100,000, (the record was US$150,000 for a single fish) so there is no need to question why they are being hunted down in every far-flung corner of the worlds oceans. The Chui Gyorui Co. Ltd in Japan turned over US$456 million in one year on tuna alone. (All tuna species combined) The Mitsubishi Corporation is one of the largest tuna companies in the world.

Blue Fin Tuna facing extinction Bluefin Tuna unsustainable

In the developing nations, corporations from large industrialized nations are marching in and investing money into the country (or to the pockets of corrupt officials) to obtain local fishing rights. Once granted, hi-tech fishing fleets come into localized waters and literally rape them for everything they have. This is not just for tuna, but all fish stocks. Once an area is cleaned out, they literally move on to the next country like a plague across the seas.

I’m sure bluefin tuna is an amazing feast for fish connoisseurs, however the shear greed and status symbol added to the ever-growing world demand means that now it really is a grab-what-you-can-now attitude. Tuna farms are popping up all over the world. Virtually every tuna "farm" in existence now is simply ranching wild-caught tuna, which is a major contributing factor to the appalling state the species' (both Northern and Southern) have reached. It's all the impacts of rampant over-fishing combined with the additional impacts of farming a predator with a voracious appetite. This also assists fisherman when it comes to quotas and sizes, fish that would have had to have been thrown back are now caught as juveniles and merely sent to a ranch to be fattened up before being sold.

There is however a glimmer of hope when talking with Emi Farrugia, an influential figure in the Maltese Fisheries and a diving legend on the island. Emi explained that several bluefin farms off the coast were collecting the eggs and working out ways to raise the young spawns in these farms. These young fish would be counted in the annual quota set for Malta, meaning that less wild fish will be caught annually by their fishing fleets, hence the stocks could eventually replenish themselves. So long as this was regulated and policed, there could be some hope for the majestic bluefin tuna.

For those with the money however, it has been reported that several companies in Japan are stockpiling frozen bluefin, speculating on its extinction to get more bang for their buck. Once the bluefin tuna species is extinct, sitting atop a stockpile of frozen bluefin would be greater than oil. We can always find an alternative fuel, we cannot find an alternative when it comes to a single specific species.

Mediterranean Blue Fin Tuna

In September 2009, several Mediterranean countries rejected a call by the European Union to ban fishing for Northern bluefin tuna until the over-exploited population has recovered.

After this failure, as a last resort, the EU commission has agreed to support Monaco, (the first country to ban bluefin tuna trading), in its attempt to have the fish listed internationally as an endangered species. The final hope for bluefin tuna will be in March 2010. With Monaco taking the lead several EU countries have proposed to take this species right out of the hands of the fisheries managers who have overseen its demise, and place it’s future in the hands of CITES: Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. CITES was set up specifically to save species from extinction: tigers, rhinos, whales and the like.

If the story of the Northern bluefin sounds bad, it’s Southern cousins are in an even more perilous state. According to Karli Thomas of Greenpeace, the scientific estimate of the Southern stock is somewhere between 3% and 8% of the original population - meaning that we have already wiped out more than 90% of them, maybe even up to 97%.

“What the hell are we thinking to discuss how much to catch of a species that we have almost erased from the planet - to continue any commercial hunt for the Southern bluefin is unthinkably irresponsible,” stated Karli Thomas.

When will we wake up and start being responsible for maintaining our collective resources? The oceans belong to all of us, not just the fishermen or the large fishing industries who are only interested in their financial benefits today.

Below is a direct quote from Tohto Suisan Kabushiki Kaisha (one of the main wholesalers at the Tsukiji Market in Tokyo). They seem to believe the oceans are “inexhaustible”. Nothing could be more “profound”!!

“We live on the planet which has sea. The sea this great inexhaustible natural resources to which our TOHTO SUISAN KABUSHIKI KAISHA attaches the most profound.”

The oceans of the world provide life on Earth with a huge resource, without which life on this planet would be almost impossible. These resources need careful management to make them sustainable, at the present rate of consumption, wastage and mis-management we are on a one-way trip to starvation.

One day when we’re on our deathbeds, will we say to our children, “So long, and thanks for all the fish!”……

Gary Stokes,
Oceanic Love.

What Can You Do?

*Boycott restaurants who have bluefin Tuna on there menus and spread the word amongst your friends, family and colleagues to do the same.

To learn more visit the WWF Blue Fin Tuna page here

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