“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Give the fishing industry a quota and it will learn how to exceed it.” – Fractured proverb

Trouble in the Pacific

Bigeye Tuna is in trouble. This highly valued sushi fish is being overfished in the Pacific and has sunk to its lowest historical levels.

But the US, rather than reducing its fishing quota, is wrapping up the year by increasing its take of Bigeye by 3,000 metric tons.

Bigeye tuna swim in deep waters around Hawaii and across the Pacific. From 1996 to 2008, the number of longline hooks set in Hawaii fishing grounds increased fourfold. In response to this rampant fishing activity, a quota has been set for the amount that can legally be caught.


The Shell Game

This year Hawaii exceeded its 3,500 metric ton quota for bigeye and was set to be shut down in August.

That should be the end of this story. You reach your limit, fishing gets closed down.

But then the shell games began.

In 2014, the National Marine Fisheries Service approved a new rule that did two things:

  1. Nearly double the 3,763-metric-ton fishing quota on Pacific bigeye by creating separate quotas for “U.S. Pacific Territories” from places like Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Marianas. Prior to this newly invented quota, Guam rarely caught bigeye tuna so this quota was not based on actual effort or historical data.
  2. Transferred 3,000 metric tons from those made-up quotas to Hawaii-based fishermen who neither fish in territorial waters nor land their catch in the territories.

This year after reaching its quota Hawaii paid Guam $200,000 to use half of its quota so the longliners could continue to fish.

The Longline Fishery

leatherback-coming-on-shoreLongline fishers use thousands of dangling hooks on lines stretching up to 60 miles long and more than 1,000 feet deep. Hawaii’s deep-set longliners create a curtain of death across huge swaths of the ocean, indiscriminately catching large amounts of other marine life along with the targeted bigeye tuna. These species falling victim to this fishery include humpback and sperm whales, false killer whales, dolphins, sea turtles, sharks and seabirds.

Bigeye tuna also comes with a health risk for those who eat it. Bigeye is high in toxic mercury, nearly double that of albacore and yellowfin tuna. How the fish are caught also makes a difference. Longline-caught bigeye has nearly five times the mercury levels of troll-caught albacore which catches smaller fish.

Turtle Island Restoration Network is helping to expose this quota shell game, the impact of longlining on marine biodiversity and the health risks associated with eating tuna, swordfish and shark.

Read more about this shell game: