The Pew Environment Group has announced that it has joined a group of fourteen fishing and conservation organizations and more than 55,000 citizens in urging the National Marine Fisheries Service to drop its proposal to let commercial long-line fishermen increase the number of Atlantic bluefin tuna they catch and sell.
Scientists estimate that the number of mature western Atlantic bluefin tuna has dropped by more than 80 percent since 1970, with fewer than 20,000 adults remaining. Although directed commercial fishing for Atlantic bluefin tuna in the Gulf of Mexico, the only known spawning area for the species, has been banned since 1982, long-line fishermen targeting swordfish and yellowfin tuna are allowed to keep up to three incidentally caught bluefin tuna per trip. Because bluefin are highly valued in the marketplace — up to thousands of dollars a fish — there is a strong economic incentive for fishermen to catch their limit.
Conservation organizations and concerned citizens have urged NMFS to protect the species by implementing a ban on long-line gear in the Gulf of Mexico. In addition to protecting bluefin tuna, the ban would help conserve populations of white and blue marlin — both categorized as subject to overfishing and severely depleted — and endangered leatherback and threatened loggerhead sea turtles.
"Atlantic bluefin tuna, one of the largest and most valuable fish in the oceans, is in dire straits," said Lee Crockett, director of federal fisheries policy for the Pew Environment Group. "We now have the opportunity to restore this fish to healthy levels. The question is whether or not the National Marine Fisheries Service will finally take the necessary and bold steps to protect bluefin in U.S. waters."