Pacific Bluefin Tuna Population Has Dropped By 96 Percent

The dark side of sushi's surge in popularity.
Wikimedia Commons

For the Pacific bluefin tuna, sitting at the popular kids’ table sure isn’t paying off. The stock of the fish is at historically low levels and is being dangerously overfished, a new report shows.

Fisheries scientists from the International Scientific Committee to Study the Tuna and Tuna-Like Species of the North Pacific Ocean estimate that the Pacific bluefin population has declined from its unfished level by more than 96 percent. The report warns that stock levels likely won’t improve by extending the current fishing levels. All the world’s scrombrids — a family that includes tunas and mackerels — are on the endangered list.

One problem is the majority of bluefin fishermen are snagging fish are under a year old, further hindering the species’ chance to procreate. But the extreme lack of supply isn’t deterring many buyers. If anything, low supplies of the fish have caused it to become a premium commodity, worth buying at extreme prices. Last week, a Pacific bluefin sold for $1.78 million at an auction in Tokyo.

Amanda Nickerson, the director of the Pew Environment Group has said that “the most responsible course of action is to immediately suspend the fishery until significant steps are taken to reverse this decline.” She called on the main countries responsible for Pacific bluefin fishing — Japan, Mexico, South Korea and the U.S. — to take conservational action.

So far, there’s been one minor step forward: In June 2012, the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission set a quota for the tuna catch in the eastern Pacific for the first time ever. Some of the other actions the Pew Environment Group suggested were preventing fishing on bluefin spawning grounds in the northern pacific and creating size limits to reduce the number of juvenile bluefin caught.