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Center for Biological Diversity:
Bluefin Boycott
Take Part, January 3, 2012

Tuna Tussle: Fisheries Service Sued Over Bluefin Catch Extension
Group says U.S. bluefin populations won't survive extra fishing season.

By Clare Leschin-Hoar

Commercial fisherman from Massachusetts to Florida got a little something extra from the National Marine Fisheries Service this holiday season—a two month extension of the bluefin tuna season and a trip-limit increase from three fish to five.

While that may be good news for fishermen in states like North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, who might not have seen the arrival of the migratory fish before the season’s traditional close on January 31, The Center for Biological Diversity thinks the change is closer to a lump of coal, and has filed a lawsuit challenging the new rule.

“By extending the season to March 31st, the NMFS is creating new fisheries from North Carolina to Florida,” says Catherine Kilduff, staff attorney for Center for Biological Diversity. “Bluefin have become less abundant. They used to be able to catch the entire quota in five months in New England. In 2003, they expanded the fishery to the mid-Atlantic states, and now they’re chasing the remaining bluefin further south as the fish migrate to their spawning grounds in the Gulf of Mexico.”

But Margo Schulze­-Haugen, chief of NOAA Fisheries' Highly Migratory Species Management Division, disagrees, and says the overall quota is still the limiting factor.

“Fishing for bluefin off North Carolina is the winter fishery. It’s not new. Fishery management has not been regionally specific,” she tells TakePart. “The rule change increases the opportunity to catch the quota allocated by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), which is required by law. It’s a management tool. It doesn’t guarantee that fishermen are going to catch them.”

Carl Safina, founder of Blue Ocean Institute and longtime advocate for bluefin tuna, says the question isn’t whether fishermen should be allowed to catch more fish per day under a particular quota, but rather, is the quota low enough to allow the fish to recover? Demonstratively, he says, the answer is no.

“In the last 30 years, bluefin have not been on a recovery trend,” says Safina. “The overall responsibility of the Fisheries Service is to protect the fish and make sure there are enough of them. If fishermen are not reaching their quota by the season’s end, that strongly suggests the quota is set too high.”

Hand-wringing over the fate of wild Atlantic bluefin tuna has been ongoing for years, as environmental groups repeatedly petition ICCAT and other regulatory agencies for more stringent protection of the valuable fish. They’re often left empty­­-handed. For example, in May, after extensive review, NOAA announced that the species did not warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act, though they did designate the fish as a “species of concern.”

The topic will undoubtedly remain on the radar for the foreseeable future. NOAA is beginning a new stock assessment and will revisit the status of the species in early 2013. Until then, the Center for Biological Diversity is hoping chefs and eaters alike will stop by their Bluefin Boycott website, where they can pledge not to eat bluefin tuna or to support restaurants that serve it.

This article originally appeared here.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton