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Tuesday, August 08, 2017
Bluefin will be Bluefin
Tuesday, August 22, 2017
Hunting giants

Pacific bluefin tuna not to be listed
On Aug. 8, the National Marine Fisheries Service published its 12-month finding on the Society for Conservation Biology’s petition to list the Pacific bluefin tuna as threatened or endangered. And the short story is, NMFS did extensive research and review and found listing was not warranted. The exact words were, “We conclude that the Pacific bluefin tuna is not an endangered species throughout all or a significant portion of its range, nor likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.”

The slightly longer version is, the NMFS received a petition from the SCB to list bluefin under the Endangered Species Act, or ESA, a little more than a year ago. This occurred after scientists published population model results suggesting the entire “spawning stock biomass” was somewhere near just 4 percent of what they estimate it would be without fishing pressure.

Such a listing would have had a drastic impact on our recreational fishery, potentially shutting offshore fishing down, along with any other fishery or activity which could be construed to negatively impact bluefin tuna off our shores. Yet, the total estimated catch of bluefin our recreational anglers take averages perhaps 4 percent of the total global catch. I recall it calculated under 2 percent for 2016. Our commercial fleet now takes just 2.4 percent on average. Thus the conservation value of completely shutting down all U.S. take would be at best a symbolic token of our commitment, one that would come at virtually no cost to proponents.

This finding was published in the Federal Register on Aug. 8, last week. The entire notice is extensive, heavily founded in scientific terminology and reads like what one would find in a peer reviewed scientific journal. And if you are interested in that kind of thing, it’s so comprehensive in extent, covering topics from Fukushima to fisheries, including oceanography, climate change and bluefin biology, it’s a great source of that information in general.

Getting fully into the weeds, first, the ESA “the pit bull of environmental laws.” The way this law is drafted, there are 5 basic sections that need be addressed in the consideration of listing, ESA section 4(a)(1)(A)-(E). Plus, though SCB didn’t invoke it, there can be consideration of breaking the species into “distinct population sections,” DPS. And here NMFS did make that consideration too, with regard to whether blues in our area might actually be distinctly different than others, and justify listing as a DPS.

So now, there’s no need for SCB to repetition for consideration of a DPS of bluefin as threatened or endangered, because it’s already been done!

After 47 pages of science, addressing ESA sections A through E it concludes, “Based on our consideration of the best available scientific and commercial information, as summarized here and in the status review report, we conclude that no population segments of the Pacific bluefin tuna meet the DPS policy criteria and that the Pacific bluefin tuna faces an overall low risk of extinction. Therefore, we conclude that the species is not currently in danger of extinction throughout its range nor is it likely to become so within the foreseeable future. Additionally, we did not identify any portions of the species’ range that were likely to be of heightened biological significance (relative to other areas) or likely to be either endangered or threatened themselves.

Accordingly, the Pacific bluefin tuna does not meet the definition of a threatened or endangered species, and thus, the Pacific bluefin tuna does not warrant listing as threatened or endangered at this time.”

Who does hammer bluefin hardest? Here are the numbers. “Japanese fisheries are responsible for the majority of landings, followed by Mexico, the United States, Korea and Taiwan. In 2014, the United States reported commercial landings of 408 mt, Taiwan reported 525 mt, Korea reported 1,311 mt, Mexico reported 4,862 mt, and Japan reported 9,573 mt. These represent 2.4 percent, 3 percent, 7.7 percent, 28.4 percent, and 56 percent of the total landings, respectively.”

That’s just one example of the information included within the notice. When I gathered similar numbers for last season’s catch, it required several sources and some math, and resulted in rough estimates. It’s all here, and much, much more, complete with citations for sources, and all packaged neatly in one document, an awesome bit of work by NMFS.

For those readers who feel fishers are being besieged by big bullies hammering everything from trout stocking to sinkers, I’m sure this is not the last of it. Somehow Silicon Valley will find and finance other ways to try to bleed recreational fisheries advocacy weak and diminish public participation. Then they might warp the laws that protect the public’s access for fishing and “monetize” away the freedom of the seas — in the name of conservation, aquaculture and green energy.

But since the time of Justinian in 530 AD, “Marine Spatial Management” has always been, and continues to be, public access for fishing and freedom to travel the waters first, everything else second. Let us manage our public resources well and preserve and pass on the freedom we inherited.

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Merit McCrea is saltwater editor for Western Outdoor News. A veteran Southern California party boat captain, he also works as a marine research scientist with the Love Lab at the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute. He can be reached at:

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