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Pacific Bluefin Tuna Are Really, Really, Really Doomed

Bluefin is considered to be at only 2.6 percent of the population it would be at if it were unfished. That’s down from a previous assessment of 4.2 percent.

by Alex Swerdloff
Apr 25 2016, 2:00pm

Photo via Flickr user Ron Dollete

Forget about soy, adzuki, umeboshi, koji, negi, and nori. Kuromaguro or bluefin tuna is without a doubt the patron saint of Japanese cuisine. Just to give you an idea of how true this claim is, think about the fact that the relatively tiny island nation of Japan eats roughly 80 percent of the world's bluefin tuna supply. Even though Japan is wholly aware of the destruction of the species that its runaway obsession with kuromaguro causes, it simply cannot stay its hand.

When Japan's self-styled "Tuna King", Kiyoshi Kimura, proudly paid $118,000 for a single 200-kilogram bluefin caught on the northernmost point of Honshu earlier this year, many a conservationist saw the act as the death rattle of an industry long ago off the rails. Ironically, even as recently as 50 years ago, Pacific bluefin was thought of as junk fish and was frequently used for cat food.

READ MORE: A Japanese Sushi Tycoon Paid $117,000 for an Endangered Bluefin Tuna

And now we have the data to prove that things are really, really bad for the bluefin. A report that will be coming out in July from the International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-like Species in the North Pacific Ocean (the name doesn't exactly roll of the tongue) says the future is bleak for bluefin tuna. The report says the species' population has dropped by more than 97 percent from its historic levels even just a century ago.

Bluefin is considered to be at only 2.6 percent of the population it would be at if it were unfished. That's down from a previous assessment of 4.2 percent. An estimate of the tonnage of fish in the seas puts bluefin at 17,000 tons, reduced from 2014's estimate of 26,000.

"The situation is really as bad as it appears," said Amanda Nickson, director for Global Tuna Conservation at The Pew Charitable Trusts.

WATCH: The Politics of Food: Bluefin Tuna

The scientists who compiled the report said improved data made them more confident in their latest estimates than in previous ones. Now everyone is trying to figure out what to do.

According to the report, at current levels of reproduction and management in the fisheries that are located in the Pacific, the chance of rebuilding stocks to healthy levels is only 0.1 percent. A goal of rebuilding the species to 6.4 percent or 42,000 metric tons by 2024 has been set. But even at that level, the species is not guaranteed to recover. Experts believe that 20 percent of historic levels is the least required to keep the fish sustainable.

Things are not looking good for the Pacific bluefin tuna and we only have ourselves to blame. Let's just hope last-minute conservation efforts are able to do some sort of good before this majestic fish truly and permanently disappears from our planet.

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International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-like Species in the North Pacific Ocean
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