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Tuna’s plight is a problem the world must solve

Too many boats and technology that is too good mean that nations must cooperate to preserve tuna and other fish stocks.

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A dockworker processes a yellowfin after weighing it at the port of General Santos City in the Philippines. The island nation is a major harvester of Pacific tuna.

Darren Whiteside/Reuters/FILE

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Somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, a South Korean fishing vessel called the MFV Oryong 717 is hunting for fishing gear it left in the water to catch tuna. It won’t find it. Greenpeace has hauled it aboard their ship for disposal.

It’s just one more skirmish in an accelerating battle over the fate of one of the last great lions of the open ocean – the bluefin tuna. Its succulent flesh is so popular in sushi that its very existence is threatened. A single bluefin – they typically grow to eight feet and 800 pounds – may sell for $100,000 in Japan.

Such price tags, and humanity’s hunger for protein, have put a bull’s-eye not just on bluefin, but on scores of other species as well. Nine of 23 tuna species worldwide are “fully fished” – meaning catches should not be increased. Four more are “overexploited” or “depleted,” according to the United Nations’ Food
and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The tuna’s plight is shared by many marine species now being hunted by large, modern fishing fleets that use satellite tracking and sophisticated fishing gear, scientists say.

Despite the fact that regional fishery management organizations have imposed catch limits to try to preserve tuna and other species, global fisheries are in crisis, researchers say. Some 80 percent of commercial fish species are either fully exploited, overexploited, or collapsed, the FAO reports.

“Global fisheries really are in bad shape,” says Daniel Pauly, a marine scientist at the University of British Columbia. “Most of it is due, quite simply, to decades of overfishing.” His research tracks a steady slide in global catches.

Now there are growing signs that the nations of the world may be waking up in time to pull back from the brink – if they can find and sustain the political will to do so, experts say.

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