Tuna fished to 'near extinction'

Posted: 31 October 2000

Stocks of tuna are running dangerously low in the world's oceans and the specie itself is on the verge of extinction, warn environmental campaigners.

The popularity of Japanese sushi in the western world is putting pressure on tuna populations, turning it into an endangered species. As stocks of the fish slide the price of the tuna is soaring.

The Bluefin tuna can command prices as high as £55,000 for a single fish at a Japanese fish market. Ten years ago the same fish would have fetched a price of £24. Many London sushi restaurants serve bluefin tuna, the world's most popular fish after the cavier-producing sturgeon. The fatty underbelly of the fish, often on the menu as toro, has become Japan's cavier and can command prices of up to £50 a plate.

"I wouldn't dream of eating tuna, especially bluefin tuna. It would be like eating a rhinoceros: it's just as endangered," said Michael Gianni oceans campaigner for Greenpeace International.

In September, an emergency meeting held by 24 fishing nations to conserve valuable tuna populations in the western Pacific, failed to agree on a body to regulate fish catches. Approximately half the world's tuna comes from this area and the South Pacific has already seen a seven-fold increase since 1972. The future of agreement was cast in doubt when Japan, the world's biggest consumer of tuna, refused to limit fishing in the region.

Only last year Japan came under fire from New Zealand and Australia for 'experimental fishing' in their territorial waters. Japan announced that it would take an extra 2,000 tonnes for its 'experimental' programme - a catch worth $40 million on the open market, and five times higher than New Zealand's entire commercial quota. An International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea granted an injunction last August, ordering Japan to abide by its 6,065 tonne quota, agreed under the Convention for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT).

Tuna, the 'chicken of the sea', outsells all other types of canned fish or meat with 3.3 billion cans sold worldwide and is coming under further attack from illegal 'pirate' fishing fleets seeking to capitalise on the spiralling price of tuna in Japan. The WWF's Endangered Seas Campaign warned that unless action is taken the Bluefin tuna will the first species to disappear. Other endangered tuna species include albacore, yellowfin, bigeye and skipjack.

For further information see the summary report on A Review of Southern Bluefin Tuna Fishery and WWF's Endangered Seas Campaign