Broad Coalition Supports Recovery of the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna

By Natalie Hummel - 08 Jul 2013 17:20:33 GMT
Broad Coalition Supports Recovery of the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna

Tuna Image; Credit: © Shutterstock

Mercurial, serene, hostile, fluid, mysterious, luminous, and dark - the sea is a metaphor for life and human emotions. What lies deep beyond her surface is not revealed to many, yet a thriving living interdependent community exists. Conservationist, Aldo Leopold best expressed this idea in his essay "Land Ethic" in which he suggests that the notion of community extends far beyond human beings and should include the whole living landscape - the soils, waters, plants and animals. (1949) Leopold encourages humans to acknowledge their humanity by seeing that they are part of the living world and not apart from it. As interdependent beings, it is our ethical responsibility to conserve the beauty and natural resources of the land and sea.

Decades later, a broad coalition of environmentalists, commercial and recreational fishermen, scientists, NGOs, and academia have joined forces to ensure Leopold's vision becomes reality. This powerful coalition is strongly supporting a rule to limit surface longline fishing in the Gulf of Mexico and the western Atlantic Ocean to protect bluefin tuna, one of the largest, fastest and magnificent of all the world's fishes.

Western Atlantic bluefin tunais severely depleted, overfished for decades due to its popularity in sushi delicacies. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service, or NOAA Fisheries, has enacted several regulations to help protect bluefin tuna from being caught and killed on surface longlines. None of those regulations has yet to provide a comprehensive long-term solution to this decades-old problem. Intended to catch swordfish, yellowfin tuna and other tunas including bigeye, surface longlines stretch up to 40 miles, with hundreds of baited hooks and can be left out for 18 hours at a time. This unsustainable fishing practice ends up killing up to 80 different unintended species - called bycatch - such as sea turtles, bluefin tuna and other vulnerable ocean wildlife.

The Gulf of Mexico is the only known spawning ground for the western stock of Atlantic bluefin tuna. Although, highly migratory swimming tens of thousands of miles a year, bluefin tuna return to the tropical waters of the Gulf year after year to spawn. In mid-April to mid-June, females around age 8, return to lay over 30 million eggs each. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill (2010) elevated surface longline issues by decimating twenty percent of the habitat in the height of spawning season.

Newly released data from the NOAA Fisheries shows that surface longline vessels wasted almost 25 percent of the entire U.S. bluefin tuna quota. Making 2012, the highest year for dead discards of bluefin caught on surface longlines.

To restore balance to this fragile ecosystem and conserve western Atlantic bluefin tuna for future generations, NOAA Fisheries must implement a comprehensive recovery plan. It cannot be piecemeal, but must reflect Aldo Leopold's conservation vision for a holistic "community" of interdependent parts. Do your part and urge NOAA Fisheries to take action to:

  • Close critical spawning areas in the Gulf of Mexico to surface longlining

  • Provide resources and funding for new sustainable fishing gear (*buoy gear **greenstick gear)

  • Implement bycatch cap (eliminating the ability to fish for yellowfin tuna or swordfish once quota is reached)

  • Improve compliance and monitoring to ensure surface longline vessels adhere to bycatch cap

    Take Action via:

    *Buoy Gear

    Targets swordfish at night when they are active. The system consists of a line of about 15 buoys, each outfitted with a hook and often illuminated. If a fish hits one of the hooks, the buoy moves out of line, and the fisherman pulls it in to see what he's caught. This allows fishermen to set free fish that aren't targeted, or aren't big enough to legally keep.

    **Greenstick Gear

    Targets yellowfin tuna and other tunas including skipjack by using a short line dangling approximately 10 plastic squid-like baits. At the end of this line is a fish-shaped weight, which keeps the main line taught and makes the whole assemblage look like a fish chasing a group of prey. The lures set just at the surface or slightly above, mimic squid or flying fish, some of the yellowfin's favorite foods.

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    Topics: Fish