The Bluefin tuna is a truly globalized fish. Innovations of technologies in refrigeration, transportation, and communication have led to the establishment of Bluefin markets that are essential to both national and transnational economies and cultures. A single Bluefin tuna could be handled by hundreds of people, could travel across many different countries and continents, and will probably fetch a hefty price in a mixture of currencies. This pricy fish, however, is undergoing a severe population decline due to an increase in fishing pressure. Current practices of Bluefin acquisition are unsustainable. 90% of Bluefin caught are juvenile which leads to low spawning stocks. Organizations of all types (national, international, governmental, and nongovernmental) have emerged to influence policies designed counteract these damaging trends. Before we look at these organizations, lets put this issue into a global frame.
Some International Stakeholder’s Perspectives:
- A tuna distributor looks to profit off this “diamond of the sea.” They may cite the fact that the global catching and landing numbers of Pacific Bluefin tuna have remained at consistent levels for the past 50 years. In their opinion, the techniques of Bluefin capture do not need to change.
- A scientist at NOAA or ICCAT, inter-governmental fishery organizations responsible for the conservation of tuna, wants to save the Bluefin from impending extinction.
- A restaurant owner in the UK has replaced Bluefin with Big eye tuna. The owner has recognized that the species is in peril and has switched to a more sustainable alternative.
- A fisherman in Spain is witnessing the potential collapse of his livelihood or his family’s traditional trapping business.
- A consumer in Japan is knowingly or unknowingly contributing to this crisis by keeping the demand for Bluefin tuna very high.
There are hundreds of international perspectives to consider. They all play a factor in the actions of national and international organizations that are trying to address the issue of Bluefin stock depletion.
The Organizations Involved:
The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) is a fisheries organization established to study and manage tuna populations in the Atlantic Ocean. Founded in 1969, it consists of 46 member countries including Japan and the U.S. This organization regularly puts out resolutions and recommendations for the monitoring and compliance of tuna catch laws. Monitoring techniques include vessel monitoring systems and electronic tracking from sea to sale. Working closely with national organizations like Japan’s Fishery Research Agency, ICCAT seeks to develop a strategy that can be implemented unilaterally to rebuild the adult Bluefin numbers.
Environmental organizations and conservationists believe that the measures put out by organizations like ICCAT are not enough to prevent the collapse of Bluefin stock. Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) have responded to many of ICCAT’s decisions of disapproval. Greenpeace calling a recent decision in 2014, “disastrous and shameful,” is just one instance of public condemnation. In their eyes, more must be done to prevent the collapse of Bluefin populations. These environmental organizations are calling for Bluefin boycotts. A moratorium is the most effective method to ensure the long-term survival of this at-risk fish, but it represents an extreme stance that would invariably harm countless individuals who rely on Bluefin trade for their livelihoods.
Ultimately it is all about enforcement and fishermen seem to be circumventing policies put in place by the international community. The chart below shows that quotas set by ICCAT are being routinely disregarded and illegal fishing has become rampant. The future of the Bluefin depends on a shift in policies to combat this trend.
The politics surrounding Bluefin tuna are complex. Tuna isn’t just a food, its an economic market and a cultural item of great significance. It is difficult to control a commodity that has limited defined boundaries. Policies that modify Bluefin acquisition or trade must be nuanced and look in depth at numerous national and transnational factors. With any luck, policies will save the fish from the endangered species list in the near future.
Will Gale is a senior political science major at Davidson College. After college, he hopes to return to his original hometown of Washington D.C to work on Capitol Hill.
Longo, Stefano. 2011. “Global Sushi: The Political Economy Of the Mediterranean Bluefin Tuna Fishery in the Modern Era.” American Sociological Association. XVII(2): 403–427.
Issenberg, Sasha. 2007. The Sushi Economy: Globalization And the Making of a Modern Delicacy. New York, N.Y.: Gotham Books
New York Times. 2012. The Bluefin Tuna: What’s To Be Done? Green Blog.
ICTSD. 2008. “ICCAT Tuna Quota Reductions Not Enough” http://www.ictsd.org/bridges-news/biores/news/iccat-tuna-quota-reductions-not-enough-environmentalists, accessed September, 2015
Breachingtheblue.2011. “Rampant Illegal Fishing of Bluefin Tuna.” http://breachingtheblue.com/2011/11/03/rampant-illegal-fishing-of-bluefin-tuna/