Pew Launches Urgent Effort to Protect Bluefin Tuna in the Gulf of Mexico
Protecting bluefin tuna in its only known spawning ground in the western Atlantic Ocean has taken on added urgency following last week's rejection of a global trade prohibition for the severely depleted species. To help restore the western Atlantic population of bluefin, the Pew Environment Group is undertaking a campaign to halt destructive fishing practices in the Gulf of Mexico that harm these fish.
Listen to a recording
(MP3) of the press briefing announcing the launch of this campaign.
The effort is intended to save the lives of reproductively mature tuna that are incidentally caught on commercial long-lines. Long-lining is an indiscriminate fishing practice in which hundreds of baited hooks are attached to commercial fishing lines extending for an average of 25 miles. With support of sport fishermen and other conservation organizations, this campaign seeks to prohibit surface long-lining in the Gulf of Mexico.
"Eliminating surface long-line fishing in the Gulf of Mexico will increase the reproductive success of bluefin and allow them to recover faster," said Lee Crockett, Pew's director of federal fisheries policy. "Healthy bluefin populations will lead to healthier oceans which in turn can fuel economic growth and better future fishing opportunities.
Pew's campaign will work with partner groups to create economic and regulatory incentives for surface long-line fishermen to switch to less wasteful fishing gear. "I appreciate the efforts of the Obama Administration on the world stage and I look forward to working with them to protect the only spawning grounds for bluefin tuna in the western Atlantic,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who favors saving bluefin tuna in the Gulf. Wasserman Schultz helped lead an effort to gather Congressional endorsements for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) listing.
"The United States government strongly supported trade restrictions for bluefin tuna at the meeting in Qatar," said Susan Lieberman, director of international policy with the Pew Environment Group and the head of the Pew delegation to the CITES meeting. Last week, CITES rejected trade protections for the species. "We are calling on the United States to translate that support into action in the Gulf of Mexico, to show the world that the United States is ready to save the Atlantic bluefin tuna in the western Atlantic Ocean by eliminating the use of long-line fishing equipment."
Bluefin tuna, sea turtles, marlins and sharks die when caught on the lines intended to catch swordfish and yellowfin tuna. Only 41,000 reproductively mature bluefin tuna remain in the western Atlantic Ocean - an 82 percent drop since 1970, according to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, a regional fishery management organization.
Since 1982, commercial fishermen have been banned from directly targeting bluefin tuna in the Gulf of Mexico, but they are allowed to keep and sell up to three incidentally caught fish per trip. Many more bluefin tuna are thrown back in the water dead.
"Electronic satellite tagging has shown that every year between March and June western bluefin tuna return to the same area in the Gulf of Mexico to spawn," said Dr. Carl Safina, co-founder and president of the Blue Ocean Institute. "This coincides with the most concentrated effort of long-line fishing for yellowfin tuna and swordfish in the Gulf. We need to establish and enforce measures that will protect these breeding fish."
Bluefin tuna are some of the most valuable fish in the sea. Weighing up to 1,600 pounds, each fish can net thousands of dollars. They race across the ocean at blazing speeds, live for 40 years and dive thousands of feet.
"Few fish command as much respect from anglers as Atlantic bluefin tuna," said Rob Kramer, president of the International Game Fish Association. "Unfortunately, the global community took a pass on protecting bluefin tuna. The United States must now step up to the plate and do all it can to help stop populations of this amazing game fish from collapsing."