Updated on April 19, 2018
The Safina Center
80 North Country Road
Setauket, NY 11733
Updated on April 19, 2018
There is good news when it comes to western Atlantic Bluefin tuna – not something you hear often – unintended catch (or bycatch) of this species has decreased dramatically over the past few years in the Gulf of Mexico, their primary spawning (or reproductive) grounds. Sadly, this may change in the months to come. The government branch working to create and enforce regulations for United States fisheries, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), has opened discussion to modify regulations protecting this vulnerable species. There is no data to suggest their population will continue improving if these management changes are implemented.
Bluefin tuna are incredible, powerful, majestic species that due to heavy fishing pressures in years past, are also endangered. Bluefin tuna is not always the first species that comes to mind when we think about charismatic creatures we love and want to protect. They are equally impressive as a sea turtle or large whale and serve as important predators in our ocean helping to keep the ecosystem healthy and in balance.
Regulations are in place to help protect Bluefin tuna in the Gulf of Mexico from interactions with the pelagic longline fishery targeting swordfish and smaller yellowfin tuna. Longline fisheries can release over 30 miles of fishing line into the ocean staggered with hundreds, sometimes thousands of hooks allowing for any passerby to bite down. Bycatch in this fishery is extensive. Currently, Gulf of Mexico longline fishermen are required to use “weak hooks” year round that straighten or break when a larger fish, such as a Bluefin tuna, bites down. A second regulation protecting Bluefin tuna sets Gear Restricted Areas simply prohibiting long line fishing activity in a designated area for a portion of the year. Closures in this case are due to peak spawning activity of Bluefin tuna thus decreasing the potential of fishing gear interactions and stressors during this sensitive time.
Arguments to modify regulations are weak. In particular, complaints of decreased target species catch, both yellowfin tuna and swordfish and concerns of a declining longline fishing fleet.
NOAA is also interested in eliminating redundancy in overall fisheries regulations. Modifying current regulations as a result of potential redundancy is premature at this point; the two regulations discussed have not been implemented long enough or studied to suggest elimination or modifications will guarantee continued improvement in Bluefin tuna populations.
We are the reason Bluefin tuna are in danger of going extinct and we can be the reason this incredible species begins to thrive again. There is no question in how to move forward, Bluefin tuna need our continued protection. Let NOAA know the only acceptable modification to weak hook regulations in the Gulf of Mexico longline fishery is mandating a six-month use from January through June and that there are NO acceptable modifications to Gear Restricted Area regulations. Leave your comments here by May 1st to help ensure modifications to current regulations will have no repercussions on Bluefin tuna’s long-term survival.