The mighty Pacific bluefin tuna is in a world of trouble, caught up in a trans-Pacific political battle over who’s to blame for driving the population to the brink of collapse and who’s responsible for bringing it back. The fish, loved by the Japanese for its deep red fatty meat and sought after by sport fishers from Baja California to New Zealand, has been decimated by decades of overfishing and an absence of responsible management. Today, the Pacific bluefin population had dropped to just four percent of its unfished size, with a steady decline over the last 15 years. And the most recent assessment shows even deeper signs of trouble.
Data collected by scientists with the International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-like Species in the North Pacific Ocean (ISC) show that more than 90 percent of a fisherman’s bluefin tuna catch today is made up of the smallest fish: juveniles that haven’t had a chance to reproduce. And that’s not the worst of it. A recent scientific analysis found that the few adult bluefin remaining in the ocean are nearing the end of their lives, meaning they won’t be reproducing much longer. With few new fish entering the population, and fishermen catching those juveniles almost exclusively, this species is at a tipping point.
Pacific bluefin is fished predominantly by Japan in the west and Mexico in the east. South Korea and Taiwan also fish for bluefin, with U.S. commercial and recreational fishers catching a small amount as well. Commercially caught bluefin regularly sell for tens of thousands of dollars each, sometimes much more.