A Thousand Giants

A Thousand Giants

Susan Cosier
Published: 10/30/2008

Bluefin tuna (NOAA)
After 12 years and countless days at sea, bluefin tuna researchers tagged their 1,000th fish this week, marking a milestone in their effort to understand and protect the endangered species.

Marine biologists Michael Stokesbury and Steve Wilson, both of whom work with the tuna conservation program Tag-A-Giant Foundation (TAG), pulled in the 1,250-pounder from the Gulf of St. Lawrence and fitted the fish with an electronic tag that records depth, water temperature, and body temperature.

Through their collaborative research, TAG scientists from Dalhousie University, Stanford University, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, in collaboration with recreational fishermen, have garnered critical data about the big tunas, like where they spawn, how deep they can dive, and how far they can swim. In theory, this information helps legislators make informed decisions when considering protective measures for the fish.

Photograph courtesy of NOAA

Now that bluefin tuna are valued so highly for their meat, known to some sushi lovers only as toro, hon maguro, or kuro maguro, they could use a little help from policy makers. But the markets are working against them: One bluefin sold for $173,000 at an auction in Japan. As a result, the stocks are now a fraction of what they once were.

Part of the problem is that bluefin tuna, which migrate across entire ocean basins, are overfished. The group that is charged with conserving the fish, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), is mismanaged, argues the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and stock continue to decline.

Not all the news is bad, though. TAG, by catching (and releasing, of course) its 1,000th fish, shows that it will continue to gather information that could prove essential to tuna conservation. WWF is also seeing a growing number of European companies boycott Mediterranean bluefin. And ICCAT…well, let’s just wait and see what happens at the annual meeting in November. Even though there are plenty of fish in the sea, we’d like to see the bluefin tuna out of troubled waters.