Pacific Bluefin Tuna has fallen 96% from its historic levels

The Pew Trust reports, 12th September 2015: The highly depleted population of Pacific bluefin tuna is one step closer to collapse after a meeting of fishery managers in Sapporo, Japan, concluded without agreement on any new conservation measures. Decimated by nearly a century of overfishing, the bluefin population has fallen 96 percent from un-fished levels — and the numbers will continue to drop.

At the meeting that ended on the 3rd September, the Northern Committee of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) made no progress on either short-term steps to start the population’s recovery or longer-term measures to rebuild the species to healthy levels. The WCPFC’s Northern Committee is made up of the 10 governments responsible for sustainably managing Pacific bluefin.

Members could not even agree to ask scientists to evaluate the effects of stricter management on the future health of the population.

Pacific bluefin swim in the ocean. Richard Herrmann

Pacific bluefin swim in the ocean.
Richard Herrmann

What’s even more concerning is that this lack of action follows the release of an analysis by Japan’s National Research Institute of Far Seas Fisheries concluding that the size of the Pacific bluefin stock will continue to decline through 2018 — even with full implementation of existing conservation measures. The analysis also finds that over the next decade, there is a 1 in 3 chance that the Pacific bluefin population will fall to its lowest level ever recorded.

It is troubling that, even before the meeting started, Japanese government representatives indicated that they did not support a strong rebuilding plan for Pacific bluefin. That nation’s fishermen have the most to gain from a bluefin rebound and the most to lose if the population of this valuable species collapses.

According to an Associated Press report, the Japan Fisheries Agency blamed the dearth of progress on the lack of a quorum at the meeting. Although four out of 10 members were absent, plenty of discussion took place during the week. Each time a science-based idea was put forward, however, it was just as quickly taken off the table. Any decisions were pushed to 2016.

As with Atlantic bluefin, the path toward sustainable management of its Pacific cousin is clear. Today, eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin are showing signs of growth in response to sharp catch reductions following the 2010 trade ban threat, but members of the Northern Committee have so far proved unwilling to act to get the job done in the Pacific. Because managers again did not agree on needed protections, the international community may be forced to look at a global trade ban to help save this species.

The good news is that these are highly productive fish, spawning millions of eggs a year. If afforded additional protections soon, Pacific bluefin and the fisheries that depend on them could recover relatively quickly.


Source: The Pew Trust, 9th September 2015. For the full details, see


Footnote: We provide here a link to an article which appeared in The Independent 3rd June 2009. Here it was reported that Japan’s Mitsubishi conglomerate had cornered a 40% share of the world market in bluefin tuna. It was reported that Mitsubishi was importing thousands of tonnes of bluefin tuna, freezing it a minus 60C, with the ultimate purpose of selling it for a fortune when the world stocks of bluefin tuna had totally collapsed. In other words a gold hoarder, gambling on the fish’s extinction.

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