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The “Millon Dollar” Fish in Peril: The Atlantic Bluefin Tuna


Their bodies are uniquely shaped like torpedoes for underwater dynamics. But the Atlantic bluefin tuna’s running out of ammunition.

Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, steel and infrastructure have stressed and mauled Mother Nature’s once flawless, “green” face—she’s now had one botched plastic surgery too many. This shift has been so drastic that it can actually be measured on a rather dismal, yet “perspective centering” metric. Oceanic Biodiversity counts, anyone? We’ll start there.

The ocean’s canary

In lieu of sugar coating an insulin-sensitive topic, I’m going to share with you a statistic that should ring clear—our oceans are ninety-percent less abundant than they were sixty years ago. That’s startling.

And also a red flag. Anglers and outdoors hobbyist alike, may I know introduce you to the aquatic equivalent of the “canary in the mineshaft” that’s worth its weight in gold, the Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus).


Tunas have often been denoted as the “tigers” of the open oceans. Few aquatic fauna can compete with their tenacity and seemingly insatiable appetites.  And reaching upwards of three-hundred pounds and ten-feet in length, they have little in the way of aquatic predators—we’re terrestrial by every definition of the word.

Atlantic bluefin tuna have been a cornerstone of elegant, up-scale cuisine since its popularity began sky-rocketing in the mid-1970s. I like to label such cultural culinary customs as “socioeconomic sustenance.” If you can afford to consume it, you’re somebody—and slinging a serious six-figure plus salary.

But where do we, as a community, draw the line between what’s ethically sound and what’s sport? The answer couldn’t be more obvious—is the practice sustainable?

More from Wide Open Spaces

Sushinomics: How Bluefin Tuna Became a Million-Dollar Fish

NOAA: Western Atlantic Bluefin Tuna

World Wildlife Fund: Bluefin Tuna

Falling down

Atlantic bluefin tuna populations have declined since commercial fishing began on the west coast during the 1950’s. Since that time, we’ve experienced a “roller coaster-like” dive in bluefin biomass counts—72 percent, to be exact. But the organized, conservation-sound fisheries aren’t the ones to necessarily raise a brow to—it’s the ones you aren’t aware of.

Pirate fishing,” as it’s known, is the practice of illegal and undocumented harvesting and cultivation of marine biomass, and it’s running rampant in the bluefin tuna market. Odds are that the gargantuan bony fish you see in any Asian fish market, selling for an obscene amount of currency, are what I like to call “ghost fish”—there’s no paper trail leading to their existence and harvest.


Brightness ahead

But in the wake of such dire figures and immoral practices, there’s a hopeful light shinning bright through the drag nets. Stocked and wild populations have experienced (albeit slight) positive curves in population counts. This upwards trajectory toward a sustainable future can be correlated to “tuna tagging,” imposing stricter quota regulations, and successful fishery spawning.

We now not only know more about their migratory and reproductive habits, but we’ve successfully culminated that knowledge into captive rearing—the fishery at Kinki University in Japan is the only one of its kind to produce bluefin in a solely captive environment, thus far.

So, what can you do as an everyday angler and unami-savvy consumer? Two practices echo out more than any other: Demand to know where your tuna source is being harvested from, sustainable or otherwise. The second is somewhat all encompassing—“When does my demand for this critically endangered fish go from entree to extinction?”

Moderation is the key, really. Let’s make sure our children’s children have the opportunity to see these marine powerhouses for generations to come.

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The “Millon Dollar” Fish in Peril: The Atlantic Bluefin Tuna