Tomorrow the National Geographic Channel (of which approximately over 50% is owned by NewsCorp, a Murdoch Company) is debuting the television show Wicked Tuna. The show is intriguing because the species itself is remarkable.
Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) can swim up to 40 miles per hour and can dive up to 3,000 feet. Their body is so remarkably streamlined for efficiently swimming through the ocean that Pentagon-funded scientists have studied the species as a model for Navy torpedoes. They’re also known to travel far and wide (actually, across entire oceans over their lifetime). This causes some challenges when coming together to manage the species.
The dilemma I have in deciding to watch the show is that NatGeo may be glorifying the bluefin tuna as a species of consumption so that people start ordering it more. But, folks need to understand the repercussions and ask one more question, “Is this bluefin tuna caught in the U.S.?”
As I mentioned, there are some challenges with managing a species that spans globe. Bluefin tuna are an internationally managed species, guided by the intergovernmental body the International Commission on Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). Within management plans of the ICCAT, it is irrefutable that the U.S. bluefin fishery is the most sustainably managed in the world. The bluefin tuna caught in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts is predominantly hand gear (rod and reel or harpoon). This fishery is well regulated and responsible. There is also bluefin tuna caught as bycatch from the longline fisheries targeting other types of tuna. To reduce bycatch, fisheries are now required to use circle hook and weak hooks to reduce the bluefin tuna bycatch, as well as other nontarget species (e.g., sea turtles). The species is slow to mature and catching young bluefin tuna reduces the chance they’ll have the opportunity to reproduce. That is why it is so negligent to eat the bluefin tuna from the poorly regulated European fishery. Many of the bluefin caught there are with purse seines or longlines. In fact, since industrial fishing began in the Mediterranean it is estimated that over 80 percent of bluefin stocks have been fished out.
It’s no help that there is extreme demand for this type of fishing pressure as sushi chefs will pay gobs for the fish. The ‘Wicked Tuna” fishermen can get up to $20,000 for each fish. In January 2012, a Tokyo restaurant paid $736,000 for a bluefin tuna at auction (there’s the ‘first fish phenomenon’ which can bring a lot of publicity to a restaurant for paying a high amount for the first fish).
The Monterey Bay Seafood Guide lists bluefin tuna as a species to avoid. The Center for Biological Diversity encourages the public to boycott any restaurants serving bluefin tuna. Greenpeace has even stated that, “The world needs to see a ban on bluefin tuna fishing until stocks recover”. National Geographic claims this show’s scope includes a “solid conservation message about what’s been going on with the bluefin”. So, if you must ask for ‘Wicked Tuna’, make sure it’s at least from the U.S. Certainly, food for thought.