For Immediate Release, June 20, 2016

Overfishing Continues As Population Reaches Near Historic Low

SAN FRANCISCO— Pacific bluefin tuna have reached dangerously low population levels, so a coalition of individuals and groups today petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service to protect the species under the Endangered Species Act. The Pacific bluefin tuna population has declined more than 97 percent since fishing began, largely because countries have failed to reduce fishing enough to protect the iconic species, a luxury item on sushi menus.

“Status-seeking sushi eaters are eating the majestic bluefin tuna into extinction and we have to stop now, before it’s too late,” said Todd Steiner, biologist and executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network. “Placing the Pacific bluefin on the Endangered Species list is the first step to end the slaughter and put this amazing species on the road to recovery.”

“Without help, we may see the last Pacific bluefin tuna sold off and lost to extinction,” said Catherine Kilduff of the Center for Biological Diversity. “New tagging research has shed light on the mysteries of where majestic bluefin tuna reproduce and migrate, so we can help save this important species. Protecting this incredible fish under the Endangered Species Act is the last hope, because fisheries management has failed to keep them off the path toward extinction.”

Petitioners requesting that the Fisheries Service list Pacific bluefin tuna as endangered include the Turtle Island Restoration Network , Center for Biological Diversity, The Ocean Foundation, Earthjustice, Center for Food Safety, Defenders of Wildlife, Greenpeace, Mission Blue, Recirculating Farms Coalition, The Safina Center, SandyHook SeaLife Foundation, Sierra Club and WildEarth Guardians, as well as sustainable-seafood purveyor Jim Chambers.

“This beautiful, high-performance migratory predator is critical to ecosystem balance in the ocean,” said Mark Spalding, president of The Ocean Foundation. “Unfortunately, these fish have no place to hide from mankind’s high-tech, long-distance, big-net fishing fleets. It is not a fair fight, and so the Pacific bluefin tuna is losing.”

Intensifying the concern surrounding the tuna’s drastic population drop to less than 3 percent of the unfished population, almost all Pacific bluefin tuna harvested today are caught before reproducing, leaving few to mature and propagate the species. In 2014 the Pacific Bluefin tuna population produced the second-lowest number of young fish seen since 1952. Just a few adult age classes of Pacific bluefin tuna exist, and these will soon disappear due to old age. Without young fish to mature into the spawning stock to replace the aging adults, the future is grim for Pacific bluefin unless immediate steps are taken to halt this decline.

“Feeding the insatiable global sushi market has caused Pacific bluefin tuna to decline by 97 percent,” said Phil Kline, senior oceans campaigner at Greenpeace. “With the Pacific bluefin now facing extinction not only is an endangered listing warranted, it’s long overdue. The tuna need all the protection we can give them.”

Starting Monday, June 27 in La Jolla, Calif., countries will negotiate future catch reductions for Pacific bluefin tuna at the meeting of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission. All signs point to the Commission opting to maintain the status quo, which is insufficient to end overfishing, let alone promote a recovery to healthy levels.

“Consider this: Bluefin tuna takes up to a decade to mature and reproduce, but many are caught and sold as juveniles, compromising the repopulation and viability of the species. In the last 50 years, technological acumen has enabled us to kill over 90 percent of tuna and other species,” said Dr. Sylvia Earle, National Geographic explorer-in-residence and founder of Mission Blue. “When one species is fished out, we move on to the next, which is not good for the ocean and not good for us.”

“Nearly a century of indiscriminate and unlimited fishing for Pacific bluefin tuna has not only brought the tuna itself to the brink of extinction, but has also resulted in innumerable marine mammals, sea turtles and sharks being caught and killed by tuna fishing gear,”  said Jane Davenport, senior staff attorney at Defenders of Wildlife.

“The Pacific bluefin tuna is a majestic fish, warm-blooded, often six feet long, and one of the largest, fastest and most beautiful of all the world’s fishes. It is also endangered,” said Doug Fetterly of the Sierra Club. “Given the dire situation with a population drop of 97 percent, ongoing overfishing, and increasing negative impacts from climate change, the Sierra Club Marine Action Team calls for protection of this vital species by listing it as endangered. Without this protection, the Pacific bluefin tuna will continue its downward spiral toward extinction.”

“Pacific bluefin may well be the needlessly endangered fish in the world,” said Carl Safina, founding president of The Safina Center. “Their profligate and unmanaged destruction is a crime against nature. Even economically, it’s stupid.”

“The near extinction of the Pacific bluefin is yet another example of our failure to grow — or in this case, catch — our food in a sustainable manner,” said Adam Keats, a senior attorney at the Center for Food Safety. “We must change our ways if we are to survive. Hopefully it is not too late for the bluefin.”

“Insatiable human appetites are emptying our oceans,” said Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate at WildEarth Guardians. “We must curb our taste for sushi and take action to save incredible wildlife like the bluefin tuna from extinction.”

“Listing the Pacific Bluefin tuna as an endangered species will allow countless juvenile fish to reach maturity, thereby helping to rebuild this depleted fishery. The bigger challenge is, of course, to control unregulated and illegal fishing in international waters, an issue that must be addressed worldwide,” said Mary M. Hamilton of SandyHook SeaLife Foundation.

“Unrestrained commercial overfishing condoned by the international bodies has already allowed Pacific bluefin tuna to fall to just 2.6 percent of its unfished level,” said Jim Chambers, owner of Prime Seafood. “Bluefin are the most highly evolved of all fishes and because of their great power and stamina are deservedly considered a supreme challenge in big game fishing. We simply need to save the world’s most valuable fish before it’s too late.”

View the petition here.


The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.