Missing: bluefin tuna, last seen heading for extinction

Posted by Willie — 26 May 2010 at 3:16pm - Comments

We're out here in the middle of the Mediterranean. But at the moment, the bluefin tuna don't seem to be here.

The fishing boats are here. The tugs and support vessels are here. The French navy ships which are monitoring/protecting the fishery are here... but the fish aren't.

Perhaps it's just not warm enough yet. Perhaps they're looking in the wrong places. Perhaps the fish are late.

The worst possible scenario for everyone is that the fish have gone.

The warnings have been sounded for years, and us environmentalists often get scolded for being doom-mongers, but the fact is, if we keep hunting a species at an excessive level, at some point there will be none left.

Now, it's actually quite difficult to make a species fully extinct in the oceans. But we're a dab hand at making things commercially extinct (remember Atlantic salmon? North West Atlantic cod?). That happens first. By that time we have often already changed the species anyway by taking out all the big fish or extirpating it from entire areas. We change the ecosystem too with industrial-scale fishing, upsetting the food web and the balance of species. That usually results in making it harder for the overfished species to regain a foothold.

For example, taking out lots of fish can lead to an increase in jellyfish or crustaceans. These can then stop the fish replenishing their populations by snacking on the eggs and juveniles...

Anyway, Greenpeace is used to playing the waiting game. 'Hurry up and wait' is an unofficial slogan on many of the direct actions we do. What is evident is that the fishermen are ready and that time is not on their side.

The Mediterranean bluefin purse-seine fishery is only open until 15 June. They have three weeks left. The short season is a result of too much overcapacity and too few fish. There's been a drastic reduction in recent years from being able to purse-seine 11 months out of 12, to just the one. That doesn't build in a lot of slack, which is a small mercy for the bluefin.

If I believed in such things, I might suggest that someone had tipped the bluefin off and they were biding their time until 16 June.

We can dream.

And we can wait.

About Willie

Hi, I'm Willie, part of the Greenpeace UK biodiversity team. I work mostly on oceans and fishy issues.

Twitter: @williemackenzie

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