Bigeye tuna are under threat because authorities are failing to recognize the dire extent of overfishing. If protection measures are not put in place, says WWF and TRAFFIC, the tuna stocks are at serious risk of collapse.
Up to 60% of the bigeye tuna catch in the Eastern Pacific are small, juvenile fish, and the proportion of these is rising, says a new report from WWF and TRAFFIC, the wildlife monitoring network.
“Removal of juvenile fish, before they reach adulthood and breed, compromises the sustainability of tuna stocks and reduces the availability of adults for the high-value sashimi markets in Japan,” says Glenn Sant, TRAFFIC’s Global Marine Programme Leader.
“Instead they end up being worth a few cents in a can."
Bigeye tuna is highly prized in Japanese sashimi markets, but unless fisheries are better managed, the bigeye will become yet another endangered tuna species, like Atlantic and Southern bluefin tunas.
The report reveals that bigeye tuna stocks in the Eastern Pacific, Indian, Atlantic and Western and Central Pacific Oceans are all suffering from excessive fishing and the Eastern Pacific stock is overfished.
Measures needed to protect the stock include the setting of precautionary catch limits, introduction of bigeye population restoration programmes, halting the harvesting of juvenile fish, and improved data collection.
“Science demands a sharp reduction in the catch of bigeye tuna, but over the past decade this advice has been ignored,” says Dr Simon Cripps, Director of WWF’s Global Marine Programme.
“Once again the high seas are being fished out, and unless global intervention is effective, important fish stocks will be lost forever.”
The report shows that government members of Regional Fisheries Management Organizations — the main international mechanism to regulate fishing on the high seas — have generally been slow to respond to scientific advice, have failed to address overfishing of bigeye tuna, and have not met their legal obligations under the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement.
The collapse of bigeye tuna stocks will have a profound economic impact on fishing fleets, associated processing and trading industries and on a number of island states who rely on income from fishing fleet fees.
The report is being launched before the organization in charge of bigeye tuna management in the Western and Central Pacific — The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission — meets to discuss management measures.
WWF and TRAFFIC calls on commission members to act in line with their international obligations and follow the advice of its scientific committee before it’s too late.
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