Pacific Bluefin Tuna Are Heading Towards Protection
Ramona Young-Grindle - Courthouse News Service
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October 13, 2016

Japanese scientists are exploring ways to prevent the extinction of Pacific bluefin tuna, one of the most over-fished species in the world. CCTV's Mike Firn reported this story from Tokyo. (CCTV America)

Thirteen conservation groups and a former National Fisheries biologist petitioned for federal protection for Pacific bluefin tuna, and the marine agency agreed listing may be warranted.

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced this week that it will begin a 12-month status review of the iconic fish as the first step in the long process to secure Endangered Species Act protection for the overfished species.

Pacific bluefin tuna, one of three bluefin species, are large powerful fish, growing up to four to six feet long as adults on average, with the largest ever recorded coming in at 9.8 feet long and weighing 990 pounds. They are one of the fastest fish in the ocean, and they are able to make their cross-ocean migration from the Sea of Japan to off the coast of Baja California in as little as 55 days, the agency said. They live an average of 15 years, but some have lived up to 26 years. They are not reproductively mature until they are 3 to 5 years old.

Japan's fishery catches the most bluefin tuna, with Mexico second. The U.S. fishery is a distant fifth after Korea and Taiwan, though in the 1960s and 1970s U.S. fishermen caught up to 15,000 metric tons a year, according to the agency.

These fish spawn off the coast of Japan and a portion of the juveniles make the migration across the ocean. Most of the bluefin caught since 1952, when data collection began, have been juveniles, the agency said, with many fisheries specifically targeting juveniles since the 1990s, which has led to a decrease in spawning adults.

"Scientists are concerned because most of the spawning adults in the Western Pacific appear to be the same age, about 20 years old, and because so many juveniles are now caught that few reach adulthood. Japanese scientists are also observing spawning bluefin in a smaller and smaller area and finding no spawning bluefin where they used to be abundant," the agency said.

The overfishing of juveniles has led to an overall population decrease of 97 percent since commercial fishing began, according the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), the conservation group that spearheaded the petition coalition.

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