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Tuna’s plight is a problem the world must solve

Too many boats and technology that is too good mean that nations must cooperate to preserve tuna and other fish stocks.

(Page 3 of 3)

Still, Worm is circumspect, given the track record of even highly developed nations like his own country, Canada. Major species like the Atlantic cod were once abundant in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, but were eliminated as a commercial species by “factory fishing” in the 1990s – and have not returned in strong numbers.

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Today, less than 1 percent of the southern Gulf cod biomass of the 1950s remains, fewer than 40,000 tons of fish overall, a Canadian government study last year found. That’s not nearly enough to be a viable commercial fishery. Surprisingly, the cod that remain were still being fished – up to 2,000 tons a year, through last year, a rate that would have ensured its demise. This year Canada is permitting just 300 tons of the cod – enough to cover scientific studies and bycatch by other fisheries, and perhaps keep it from extinction.

In US East Coast waters, meanwhile, where cod was hit hard by overfishing, although not as hard as Canada’s southern Gulf cod, the cod biomass is ever so slowly rebuilding, and fishing restrictions on them remain tight.

“With cod ... it was pretty clear we weren’t being nearly conservative enough,” says Andrew Rosenberg, a professor of natural resources at the University of New Hamp­shire in Durham and an adviser to Obama’s Interagency Ocean Task Force.

“We have this bizarre notion that we are able to fish well beyond what’s sustainable – and then expect [the fish] to recover,” he says. “But you can’t just have them magically do that. You have to change the exploitation rate. It’s all about what happens in the water.”

Meanwhile, back in the western Pacific, the Greenpeace ship Esperanza and her crew have been busily scooping up tons of illegal FADs and other tuna fishing equipment it contends is also illegitimate.

Though this region is by far the healthiest of the world’s tuna fisheries, the decline of other regions means it now provides half of the global tuna catch – an unsustainable rate, says Phil Kline, senior oceans campaigner for Greenpeace.

“We’re on the knife edge,” he says. “What typically happens is commercial extinction followed later by biological collapse. We don’t want to see that here.”

Editor’s note: To read more about the environmental issues concerning tuna, read this article about sustainable sushi or check out this article about efforts being taken to restore the bluefin tuna population.

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