Monterey Bay Aquarium Statement on New Steps to Reverse Decline of Severely Depleted Pacific Bluefin Tuna Population

Sep 04, 2014

Conservation & Science
Ocean Policy
Seafood Watch

Statement of Margaret Spring, Vice President of Conservation and Science and Chief Conservation Officer, Monterey Bay Aquarium:

Today in Japan, nations fishing in the North Pacific agreed on a set of first steps to help reverse the decline of the severely depleted Pacific bluefin tuna. The discussions made clear that additional actions will still be needed to ensure recovery of the species, which decades of heavy fishing has reduced to a mere 4% of its historic population level.

Countries and organizations with an interest in tuna fisheries of the North Pacific met this week as part of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission’s (WCPFC) Northern Committee meeting in Fukuoka, Japan, to review the status of Pacific bluefin tuna and decide on steps to recover this critical species and place it on a path to long-term sustainability.

The United States delegation, led by officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, pressed for adoption of strong conservation and management measures in 2015, including cuts to juvenile mortality and limits on adult catch levels, a 10-year plan to rebuild the stock to a sustainable level (124,000 tons), and tighter control and reporting on commercial mortality.

While scientists identified the need for substantial catch reductions to ensure long term recovery of Pacific bluefin tuna, the preliminary 10-year rebuilding target of 43,000 tons proposed by Japan and ultimately adopted at this meeting, still falls short of the measures needed to fully recover the population. Further steps will be needed to implement a rebuilding program and measures that can bring the population back to sustainable levels within the next ten years

“I commend Japan, the United States, Korea and other nations for agreeing to take action next year to reduce catch of juveniles to 50% below 2002-2004 levels, limit adult harvests to 2002-2004 levels, implement a provisional Multi-Annual Rebuilding Plan, and begin developing the first reference points and harvest control rules for this fishery,” said Margaret Spring.

“Unfortunately, the science tells us these actions will not be sufficient to end overfishing and recover Pacific bluefin within the next 10 years. While all federally managed fisheries on the U.S. west coast – including West Coast groundfish – have ended overfishing and are rebuilding, Pacific Bluefin tuna, under management of the WCPFC and Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, still fall far short of these important measures of progress. Given the severely depleted state of this population and its economic, cultural and ecological importance to all Pacific nations, an aggressive, precautionary, and science-based Pacific-wide rebuilding plan is warranted.

“We hope such a plan will be revisited at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) meetings in the coming months. We will only recover this species by working together to employ the wealth of scientific information and tools available to implement robust management measures with a high likelihood of success.”

At the Northern Committee meeting, participating nations did agree to other important recommendations, including measures to encourage data collection and monitoring of Pacific bluefin tuna that are caught commercially, reporting requirements related to the international trade in bluefin products, and the initiation of a catch-documentation scheme – a critical step toward more accurate tracking of Pacific bluefin tuna throughout the chain of commerce.

These improvements will enhance transparency and traceability and will discourage illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activity. In addition, nations agreed to enhance communications and work toward more coordinated management of Pacific bluefin tuna between the WCPFC and the IATTC.

For more than 20 years, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has been a leader in research and conservation of bluefin tuna in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The Aquarium partners with leading scientists and has produced significant data sets from field tagging across the Pacific, as well as studies on tuna physiology and biology that serve as the basis for management decisions at national and international forums. It is the only U.S. aquarium to exhibit live bluefin tuna and, through its respected Seafood Watch program, brings significant seafood sustainability experience and a broad understanding of seafood markets to discussions about management of globally significant fisheries.

“As we move toward future international scientific and management meetings on Pacific bluefin tuna, we welcome opportunities to work with our colleagues in the U.S., Japan, Mexico, Korea and other interested nations to facilitate open exchange and consensus on scientific data, life history information, and analytical methods that can improve and expedite the recovery of this critical population,” said Margaret Spring. “I look forward to working with all interested parties to identify and apply scientifically rigorous approaches and tools to build a sustainable future for Pacific bluefin.”

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The mission of the nonprofit Monterey Bay Aquarium is to inspire conservation of the ocean.