By Paul Greenberg, The New York Times – IT is tuna time in New York. I don’t mean it’s time for local bistros to put salade niçoise on their menus. I mean it’s the time when real, live tuna — some of them eight feet long — enter our waters en route to their spawning grounds in the Gulf of Mexico.

Here in the miraculous roiling currents of the Mudhole, 17 miles southeast of Manhattan, and further out at hotspots like the Dip, off Montauk, tuna hunt squid and speed at 30 miles per hour alongside whales, porpoises and sea turtles. It is the wildest display of unbridled nature a New York sport fisherman like myself can ever hope to see.

But for those of us who think tuna fishing is an undeniable rite of fall, things are looking deniable. Last month, the National Marine Fisheries Service, which manages America’s wild fish, called for a halt to catching Eastern Atlantic bluefin, the largest tuna species that visits our shores. “Continued overfishing of this seriously depleted stock has convinced me,” said Bill Hogarth, the service’s director, “to seek a moratorium on this fishery for three to five years to give the stock time to begin recovery.”

That I and my fellow sport fishermen played a part in depleting the bluefin is without doubt. Sport fishing accounts today for roughly a fifth of bluefin mortality in United States waters and in the past many of those fish were simply photographed and thrown in the trash. But matching these bad practices is a world that has grown voracious for tuna and a fishing industry that has answered that demand with equal voraciousness.

In the last 30 years, commercial fishing has reduced bluefin populations by as much as 90 percent, according to some estimates. In the heyday of commercial tuna fishing, vessels called “purse seiners” equipped with advanced sonar and spotter planes located and scooped up entire schools of small tuna. Today, the bluefin that remain are pursued by boats called long-liners that set out miles of line and tens of thousands of baited hooks. A long-line does not discriminate what it catches.

Most devastating of all, large-scale commercial long-lining is practiced with vigor in the Gulf of Mexico, the bluefin’s breeding ground. Unfortunately bluefin will continue to perish even if Mr. Hogarth manages to convince the 44 other nations that have signed onto a tuna-conservation treaty to agree to a moratorium. Long-liners will merely dump any bluefin they catch — usually dead at that stage — back into the water to avoid fines and turn to mining other prey.

Don’t get me wrong. Even though I love to catch tuna, I will gladly stow my tackle for five or more years if there is a realistic chance for the bluefin to recover. But if it is truly time for a radical bluefin moratorium then I would argue that it is time to radically reassess how we catch fish in this country.

The first step toward recovery is triage. The fisheries service should immediately close the Gulf of Mexico breeding area to all long-line fishing in the spring, when our last big spawning bluefin are struggling to reproduce.

Beyond this we must confront the fact that much of American fishing is unsustainable. The loss of bluefin from New York waters is only the latest disappearance that local anglers have noticed. The whiting or “frost fish” that in recent memory were caught off Coney Island in the thousands during winter are gone. The black-back flounder that appeared around St. Patrick’s Day now barely grace us with their presence in late April. Even mackerel, which I once caught in summer off Long Island piers, now can’t be found without a two-hour trip offshore. Large trawlers and purse seiners devastated all of these populations.

And yet, much of what we’ve lost can be reclaimed. The striped bass, which I had given up for gone 20 years ago, is now catchable from the Bronx to Brooklyn thanks to a moratorium and a significant decrease in commercial fishing in spawning areas. Smaller hook-and-line operations in place of large trawlers on New England’s Stellwagen Bank have led to more stable cod and haddock fisheries. Indeed, in nearly every case where managers succeeded in replacing unreasonable fishing methods with sustainable ones, fish have recovered and thrived in much the same way that osprey have recovered since the banning of DDT.

A popular slogan of today’s farm conservation movement declares “no farms equal no food.” No doubt commercial fishermen will argue similarly that if commercial fishing is drastically reformed, fishermen will lose jobs and consumers will end up with empty seafood counters at their local supermarkets.

But fishermen are hunters and don’t concern themselves with reseeding their crops. Their livelihoods depend on the perpetuation and sound management of a wild system. Indeed, a more realistic equation for the future of seafood is “no fish equal no fishermen.” It’s an equation our nation’s fisheries managers should keep in mind before another great fish faces elimination.

Paul Greenberg, a W. K. Kellogg Foundation Food and Society Policy fellow, is writing a book about seafood and the ocean.

Bluefin Tuna

Bluefin Blues

Northern Bluefin Tuna

by Carl Safina – Bluefin Tuna is one of the largest, fastest, most gorgeous fish in the sea. Unfortunately, its extraordinary warm-bloodedness makes its muscle delicious to the strange seafood-loving creatures that live on land. The value of bluefin tuna meat goes up due to global demand for sushi and sashimi. As the price goes up, fishing increases. Too many fish are caught and the population collapses. Over the past 50 years, bluefin fisheries have collapsed off Brazil, in the North Sea, and recently off the eastern U.S. and Canada.

The Commission tasked with managing Atlantic bluefin fisheries is completely broken. The 43-nation International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas met this month in, appropriately enough, Turkey, to discuss the fate of bluefin tuna in the Atlantic. Usually referred to by its acronym ICCAT — pronounced eye-cat — it should be called instead ICCAN’T. Or, keep the acronym and change its name to International Conspiracy to Catch All Tuna.

The same can be said for the fishers themselves, who, when it comes to bluefin tuna are represented by ideologues incapable of understanding that collapse is bad for business. They lobby the Commissioners very hard, and on the other end Japan, the main market for bluefin, does everything possible to keep quotas high and the science be damned. So the Commission itself is an odd cross between a fishermen’s pit-bull and Japanese lap-dog. Last year, U.S. fishermen caught only 10 percent of their quota. By any measure, they’re going out of business. Because they consistently refused to discuss cutting their quota for the sake of conservation and their own future, their greed is bankrupting them.

What have they and the commissioners learned from the collapses? Apparently, nothing at all. In fact, in their 40-year history, they have never once managed a fish population sustainably or allowed a recovery. All the fish species under their “authority” are at historic lows, with one exception: the North Atlantic Swordfish. But it took a chef’s boycott and a successful lawsuit to arrest and turn around that fish’s plummet.

The largest remaining Atlantic bluefin population — which breeds in the Mediterranean — is now also endangered with collapse. The quota for fishing in the east half of the Atlantic and in the Mediterranean is more than double what the Commission’s own scientists recommend. Moreover, recent catches have exceeded the limit by more than 50 percent. Actual catches are about 230 percent higher than scientists recommend, meaning that for every one fish that can be sustainably caught, fishermen are killing more than three. The population has halved since the 1970s, with most of the decline occurring in the last five to six years. It’s the familiar bluefin story: Illegal fishing is rampant, too many fish are being caught, and the population is headed for collapse.

At the recent Commission meeting, the United States and Canada proposed a three-year moratorium on bluefin fishing for eastern Atlantic fishing countries — i.e., exempting themselves — to allow member nations time to control illegal fishing and incorporate scientific recommendations. The proposal was quickly rejected. Despite obvious overfishing and decline, Commission delegates actually raised the quota slightly.

Nothing meaningful — at least nothing good — is ever done for bluefin tuna by ICCAN’T. Never mind that the Commission’s own scientists have found that reducing catches and rebuilding the population could lead to substantially higher quotas in as few as 10 years.

Archaeological evidence shows that people have been fishing bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean for at least 9,000 years. A three-year break is not too much to ask to ensure that bluefin are around for the next 9,000.

Carl Safina – Biography
MacArthur Fellow, Dr. Carl Safina grew up loving the ocean and its creatures. His childhood by the sea led him into scientific studies of seabirds and fish, and to his doctorate in Ecology from Rutgers University.
During his research and recreational and part-time-commercial fishing, he noticed rapid declines in marlin, sharks, tunas and other fishes, and sea turtles. It seemed to him as though a kind of last buffalo hunt was occurring in the sea. This motivated him to become a voice for restoring abundant life in the oceans. Since then, Dr. Safina, born in 1955, has worked to put ocean fish conservation issues into the wildlife conservation mainstream. He helped lead campaigns to ban high-seas drift-nets, re-write and reform federal fisheries law in the U. S., use international agreements toward restoring depleted populations of tunas, sharks, and other fishes, and achieve passage of a United Nations global fisheries treaty. In 1990 he founded the Living Oceans Program at the National Audubon Society, serving for the next decade as vice president for ocean conservation.

He is now president of Blue Ocean Institute, which he co-founded in 2003. Blue Ocean Institute uses science, art, and literature to inspire a closer relationship with the sea. Blue Ocean Institute is an international nonprofit conservation organization headquartered in Cold Spring Harbor, New York, with an office in Hawaii.

Safina is author of more than a hundred scientific and popular publications on ecology and oceans, including a new Foreword toRachel Carson’s, The Sea Around Us (1951). His first book, Song for the Blue Ocean, was chosen a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, a Los Angeles Times Best Nonfiction selection, and a Library Journal Best Science Book selection; it won him the Lannan Literary Award for nonfiction. He is also author of Eye of the Albatross, which won the John Burroughs Medal for nature writing and was chosen by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine as the year’s best book for communicating science. Safina is also author of Voyage of the Turtle and co-author of Seafood Lover’s Almanac.

He has been profiled in the New York Times and on Nightline, named among “100 Notable Conservationists of the 20th Century” by Audubon Magazine, and featured on the Bill Moyers PBS special “Earth on Edge.” He has honorary doctorates from SUNY and Long Island University and is adjunct professor at Stony Brook University. Safina is an elected member of The Explorers Club, a recipient of the Pew Scholar’s Award in Conservation and the Environment, a World Wildlife Fund ,Senior Fellow, recipient of Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo’s Rabb Medal, and winner of a MacArthur “genius” Fellowship, among other honors.