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The building blocks of bluefin tuna sustainability

The stock of Atlantic bluefin tuna is slowly recovering, but what needs to happen to move from recovery to full sustainability?

We discussed this in February with a rich panel of scientists, policy makers, and representatives from the fishing and trade industries to understand what needs to change in the way we fish, trade and consume bluefin.   

First, we need more science to clear the remaining uncertainties on the state of the stock. There are still too many gaps in the evaluation related to biology, data and modelling of the stock to allow scientists to have a full overview of the health status of the Atlantic bluefin tuna population. New and enhanced information on fisheries (e.g. tuna catches, fishing effort, and population structure) are needed to improve monitoring  and science-based fisheries management.

Second, the fishing industry and retailers must work towards an increased diversification of the bluefin tuna market. It is important that retailers not only improve the quality of what they offer through the use of environmental labels, but also work directly with producers and NGOs to think about and promote a new model that takes into account emerging market opportunities as well as the environmental impact of the supply chain.

Third, controls cannot be limited to fisheries or farms, but should involve the entire supply chain, from the point of catch to the point of sale, including transport, storage and trade. Despite improvements, the many loopholes still existing in the bluefin tuna management framework leave the door open to a highly profitable international black market. Cases of unreported catches (especially of juveniles) or of “recreational fisheries” that seasonally catch undersized fish, are still evading general controls and the system of national and regional observers on board fishing vessels. In addition, the trade in live tuna needs to be recorded and validated to allow for the full accountability of tuna farms. 

Finally, the management of Atlantic bluefin tuna should depend on harvest strategies that are science-based and provide a long-term vision that can secure healthy fish populations and a profitable industry. Harvest control rules would avoid sudden and drastic changes in management and provide the stability that fisheries managers and industries need to plan the development of the various segments of the fleet, limiting conflict and potentially allowing for increased fishing opportunities.
Pacific bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) schooling, Mexico.