SAN FRANCISCO— The National Marine Fisheries Service today announced it will consider protecting Atlantic bluefin tuna under the Endangered Species Act. The decision is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Sept. 21 and comes in response to a Center for Biological Diversity petition last May to protect the tuna, in dramatic decline because of overfishing and habitat degradation, including from the BP oil spill. The Center issued a notice of intent to sue the agency earlier this week for failing to respond to the petition within the legally required timeline.
“As a result of today’s decision, the bluefin tuna could become the first species considered for federal protections in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill,” said Catherine Kilduff, an oceans program attorney at the Center. “Unfortunately, tuna epitomize the precarious position of many Gulf of Mexico species. Tuna were already on the brink of extinction before the oil spill from severe overfishing; then the spill drowned their breeding grounds in oil during spawning season.”
Overfishing of Atlantic bluefin tuna has caused a more than 80-percent decline from what the population would be without fishing pressure. The sushi market keeps prices for tuna high — a single individual sold for $177,000 in the fish market this year — and encourages illegal and unreported fishing. In 2007, fishermen reported catching 34,514 tons of eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna, exceeding the allowable catch by about 5,000 tons. Scientists estimated the actual catch was likely about double the reported amount.
“Our voracious appetite for sushi propelled tuna into a jaw-dropping decline, and BP’s disastrous spill only made their plight more dire,” said Kilduff. “Tuna are in urgent need of the protections of the Endangered Species Act, which has a proven track record of success in protecting imperiled wildlife.”
The bluefin, a majestic fish weighing close to a ton and reaching 13 feet, is among the fastest of all species, capable of speeds over 55 miles per hour. There are two imperiled populations of Atlantic bluefin tuna, one that spawns in the Gulf of Mexico and another that spawns in the Mediterranean. The petition seeks endangered status for both populations, which are intensely overfished. Protection under the Endangered Species Act would require federal agencies such as the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement to avoid jeopardizing the bluefin tuna in permitting offshore drilling. Additionally, protections would safeguard critical habitat and ban the importation of bluefin.
For more information about the Center’s bluefin tuna conservation campaign, visit: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/fish/Atlantic_bluefin_tuna/index.html.