Conservation & Science

Historic moment: Nations act to save Pacific bluefin tuna

Today in Busan, South Korea, Pacific nations came together and agreed, for the first time, to recover the population of Pacific bluefin tuna to a sustainable level.

Bluefin tuna at auction in Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market. Japan consumes 90 percent of the world;s catch of bluefin tuna. Photo courtesy Associated Press.

“This is a historic moment for this remarkable species, which is so important to the ocean ecosystem and to coastal communities around the Pacific Rim,” said Margaret Spring, Chief Conservation Officer for the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

At the annual meeting of the Northern Committee of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission—the body responsible for managing tunas and other highly migratory species across the western Pacific Ocean—international delegates discussed ways to recover the population of Pacific bluefin tuna after years of decline. Ultimately, they took a major step forward by agreeing to recover the population to a sustainable level and establishing a long-term management plan.

An international call for action

As a leading global voice for science-based ocean conservation, the Aquarium has repeatedly raised concerns as the Commission ignored warnings about population declines and failed to adhere to scientific advice about how to manage the recovery of Pacific bluefin tuna. This year, the international community’s call for action reached a crescendo, highlighted by recent statements from former Secretary of State John Kerry; U.N. General Assembly President Peter Thomson; and nearly 200 chefs and culinary leaders worldwide, who urged Pacific nations to take decisive action and reverse the decline in the Pacific bluefin tuna population.

Media interest, especially among Japanese journalists, was intense as the new management plan was announced. Photo by Josh Madeira/Monterey Bay Aquarium

The Northern Committee “heard clearly the voice of the international community,” Spring said, and committed to a meaningful and binding recovery plan that includes rebuilding the population from its current level (2.6 percent of the historic population level) to a sustainable level (20 percent of the historic population level) no later than 2034.

“This is a significant and encouraging departure from the previous stance of this Commission,” she said. “If it is implemented appropriately, it will recover the population.”

U.S. took a leading role

“I congratulate the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission and all Pacific nations that participated in this important negotiation for their strong, new commitment to recover Pacific bluefin tuna,” Spring said. ” In particular, I would like to thank the United States delegation for its leadership in successfully advancing a science-based management plan for Pacific bluefin tuna, and to Japan, Mexico, the Cook Islands and the European Union for their efforts to develop coordinated objectives that will guide conservation efforts across the Pacific.

“Today’s new commitments are, without question, a significant step forward. But we must remain vigilant and keep nations accountable so the Pacific bluefin tuna population can stay on a path to recovery,” she added. “This will require all Pacific nations to follow through on their responsibilities—especially to comply with and enforce fishing quotas, monitor their catches, and invest in additional research to advance our understanding of the basic biology and migration routes of Pacific bluefin tuna.

Researchers from the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Japan’s National Research Institute of Far Seas Fisheries team up to tag Pacific bluefin tuna in the Sea of Japan.

New research provides important evidence of the need for all nations to contribute to the conservation of Pacific bluefin tuna, and all countries will need to demonstrate strong will to ensure that we stay on course for recovery and sustainability. Monterey Bay Aquarium pledges to continue and expand its collaborative research with colleagues in Japan, Mexico and New Zealand to further document the migratory pathways of Pacific bluefin tuna.”

The Aquarium has long been a leading voice for the science-based management of Pacific bluefin tuna. Our staff experts are engaged in both the scientific research of the species, and the international negotiations over its management. Working across sectors and national borders—in partnership with fishing groups, nonprofits and governments, including in Japan—the Aquarium has been a consistent voice to put Pacific bluefin tuna on a path to recovery.

Leading international voices, including former Secretary of State John Kerry, urged immediate action to recovery Pacific bluefin tuna.

In addition to conducting decades of research in the eastern Pacific Ocean, we have partnered with researchers in Japan to electronically tag and track thousands of Pacific bluefin tuna in Japanese waters—including more than 3,000 fish in several age classes this past summer. The resulting data will help tell the life histories of these powerful predators, built for endurance and speed, and generate the best available science to inform management and recovery of this severely depleted species.

Stepping up our research

We’re now expanding our work to advance science-based sustainable fisheries management, especially as it relates to Pacific bluefin tuna. In January 2016, we co-convened the Bluefin Futures Symposium to bring together international experts on all three bluefin tuna species, a key moment that signaled a productive shift in the dialogue on the sustainable management of bluefin tunas worldwide. In 2018, we will step up our tuna tagging efforts in both the Eastern and Western Pacific Ocean.

“The recovery and sustainable management of Pacific bluefin tuna has a long way to go, but today’s action is critical to establish a credible, science-based roadmap to sustainability,” Spring said. “We look forward to working with the members of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission to approve this new plan when the full commission meets in December, and to advance critical research and policies that will ensure a more sustainable future for Pacific bluefin tuna and coastal communities fishing across the Pacific Ocean.”

Learn more about our work to recover Pacfic bluefin tuna and other species

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