Can the world act fast enough to save the disappearing tuna?
Scientists say drastic measures need to be taken to restore the bluefin.
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In October, meanwhile, Bill Hogarth, director of NMFS, called for a three-to-five year moratorium on bluefin fishing. In November, the US Senate unanimously passed a resolution calling for the same. But despite warnings from both sides of the Atlantic that collapse was imminent, ICCAT implemented only a small reduction. By 2010, the eastern quota will drop to 25,000 tons yearly.Skip to next paragraph
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The World Wildlife Foundation called the decision the "final blow for Mediterranean tuna." Rich Ruais, executive director of the Blue Water Fishermen's Association in Salem, N.H., and an adviser to the American delegation to ICCAT, characterizes it as "an utterly preposterous inadequate response to the crisis at hand.... The European Community has just totally refused to address the issue."
The fault, he and others say, lies with tuna-farming interests in the Mediterranean. The recent boom in capturing and fattening tuna in mobile sea pens has created a powerful lobby worried about recouping its investment. "There's nowhere else to point the finger," Mr. Ruais says.
But other ocean anomalies have some thinking that eastern fishing fleets aren't the only stress on western tuna.
The few tuna that still swim the western Atlantic are showing up quite lean. "The quality of the fish that I've seen has definitely declined over the last few years," says Bob Campbell, manager of the Yankee Fisherman's Cooperative in Seabrook, N.H.
After analyzing 14 years' worth of Mr. Campbell's logbooks, Walter Golet, a PhD candidate in Lutcavage's lab, agreed. Bluefin "come here for one reason – they come here to feed," says Mr. Golet, who recently published his findings in the journal Fishery Bulletin. But "they don't seem to be obtaining the forage that they were getting 10 to 15 years ago." (This year, which was not included in the study, has seen a slight rebound in tuna quality, says Campbell.)
This thinning has some wondering about what bluefin eat, particularly herring, a keystone species in the northern Atlantic.
Herring biomass seems high, similar to the way it was before the advent of modern industrial fishing fleets in the 1960s. But both fishermen and conservationists consider this five-inch-long fish important enough that they've formed an alliance devoted to its protection. Known as CHOIR, the Coalition for the Atlantic Herring Fishery's Orderly, Informed, and Responsible Long-Term Development, has repeatedly called for large herring trawlers to leave New England waters. The coalition fears that if herring numbers greatly diminish, everything that feeds on them, from tuna to cod, will suffer.
Indeed, while herring biomass seems healthy, scientists have noted that an individual four-year-old herring is smaller than in the past. "The size at that age has decreased over the last decade or so," says Bill Overholtz, a senior scientist with NMFS in Woods Hole, Mass. The most obvious cause is the "density effect," he says: There are so many herring that each one eats less, making them smaller. And smaller herring could mean that feeding tuna have to work harder for each meal.