It’s OK to eat Bluefin Tuna from Mexico

Lately you may have heard in the media the statement: “96% of the bluefin tuna have been fished out of the Pacific Ocean.”  

At the same time commercial and recreational fishing experts have stated:  “The 2013 bluefin tuna season in Mexico and off of California was the best we’ve ever seen–and the 2014 season is even BETTER.”

Who/what are we to believe?

 

After reviewing the arguments, the best available science, and real time data from the fishing grounds, the take-home points are the following:

  • Worldwide, bluefin tuna stocks have recovered to sustainable levels, or are on the road to recovery.  Clearly overfishing of bluefin had taken place in the past, but the public’s perception of bluefin tuna being fished out of the world’s oceans is OLD NEWS.

Reasoning: There are some species of fish that can recover from overfishing, others that can’t.  Bluefin tuna reach reproductive age in 5 years, and spawn millions and millions of eggs.  Catch quota reductions have been in place since in 2007, and enough years have passed to give bluefin tunas worldwide (there are 3 distinct genetic populations) a chance to recover.

  • The “96%” figure refers to ONLY spawning-age bluefin, but the recruitment (repopulation) and yearly harvest tonnage have been relatively constant for the past 50 years.  As in many wild fish populations, although the largest “trophy” individuals have been fished out, the overall biomass of the species can be healthy.  The graph below clearly shows both the very small % of Bluefin tuna within the grand scheme of tuna species, and the relatively consistent annual tonnage of Bluefin tuna being caught.

  • NGOs are manipulating/misrepresenting very select data to paint a “doomsday” scenario of the wild populations of Pacific bluefin.  A similar strategy was practiced with the Mediterranean bluefin, and ultimately their projections were completely wrong.

  • North Pacific Bluefin tuna off of Mexico represent only 20% of the total amount in the Pacific.  Because of the predominantly juvenile population on this side of the Pacific, the concerns of overfishing spawning-age fish is not an issue for Mexican bluefin.

Although there are valid concerns about the population of bluefin tuna in the Pacific, we at Prime Time Seafood feel this particular fishery is already on the recovery, and that these doomsday claims about the collapse of the fishery are being generated from certain NGOs as part of their agenda to end all fishing in our oceans.  There is certainly a body of scientists that are worried about the spawing stock of Pacific bluefin tuna, but they are admittedly working with limited data and feel they have to err on the side of worse case scenario—just in case.  At the same time we also want to state that Prime Time–and the whole bluefin tuna farming/ranching industry, fully support capture reductions of bluefin tuna to maintain the sustainability of this magnificent species–but based on accurate data.

MORE IN DEPTH INFORMATION:

In the big picture, bluefin tuna worldwide were being overfished up through the fall of 2007.  But this is old news.  There are a series of compelling facts that build the case Bluefin tuna stocks in the North Pacific—as well as other bluefin stocks worldwide, are nowhere near dangerously low levels:

  • The statement “96% of bluefin have been fished out” is WRONG, INCORRECT, and MISLEADING.  The 96% being referred to represents what biologists have determined is the spawning stock of bluefin in the North Pacific.  The TOTAL biomass, comprised of juvenile and spawning tunas together, is being caught in healthy tonnage–which in fact has remained relatively constant for nearly 50 years.  That is, the total amount of bluefin captured in the Pacific year on year has remained constant for 5 decades—the concern being the average size has gone down.  This is a common scenario in almost all wild fisheries throughout the world’s oceans that feature apex predator species—the largest “trophy” individuals are captured first, leaving a somewhat smaller average size class of fish, but the total biomass of the species is healthy.  The trend in the EPO is showing consistently more Bluefin each year and increasing size class—a true sign of improvement in the wild stocks.

  • The Science:  70-80% of the Northern Pacific bluefin are found in the Japan Sea and other areas in the WPO (Western Pacific Ocean).  The remaining 20-30% are found in off the western coast of North America—Baja California, Mexico and California.  The spawning grounds are in the WPO, and it is generally held that mostly juvenile bluefin occupy the EPO. There is a concern among an international group of biologists (U.S., Japan, Korea, Taiwan, etc,) studying this issue that the spawning-class bluefins have been overfished. They are especially concerned with a recent push by the Koreans to increase purse seiners in the WPO.  These assessments of large bluefin are based on only ONE narrow index—bluefin fishing by Japanese longliners in the Western Pacific.  Scientists are especially following a 1994 cohort (year class) of super-large bluefin tuna that range upwards of 500 pounds.  This year class of 20+ year old bluefin will eventually die. The scientists are adhering to a “worst-case” scenario, saying that “IF these old bluefins are the only viable spawning stock for the Northern Pacific bluefin, we need to protect the stock NOW

  • THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM:  Probably the most compelling data to consider:  Despite doomsday reports of the dwindling spawning stock of bluefin, recruitment (repopulation) and commercial catches of bluefin tuna have remained relatively constant for the past 50 YEARS!  This data is the definition of sustainability.  NGOs, nor the scientists advocating catch reductions have an explanation for this hugely important fact.  One more plausible scenario is that the stock is being replenished by not only the existing 4% of “giant” spawning-size individuals, but by the multitudes of 3,4,5 year class individuals* that are contributing to the repopulation of the species in the Pacific.

  • Many biologists feel the total bluefin stock assessments are NOT credible, because of a tremendous lack of data in their models.  They can only draw conclusions from the data they’re given–which has been relatively sparse.  In addition, the sheer numbers of bluefin tuna being caught off Mexico per year, plus the overwhelming evidence from spotter planes, recreational sportsfishing data, etc. are clear signs of a much more robust fishery than the “worst-case” scenario being reported today.

  • Win-win success story:  Concerned with the overfishing of bluefin tuna worldwide from the early 2000s to 2007, NGOs and other environmental groups pressured industry, fishery biologists, government agencies, etc. To their credit, their actions resulted in significantly lower capture quotas, implemented programs of 100% traceability, and mandatory observer programs during all facets of bluefin ranching operations—from capture to harvest and sale.  There are literally no “unreported” catches of bluefin tuna in the commercial industry.

  • Life cycle of bluefin tuna and its ability to repopulate, reduced captures worldwide:  Bluefin tuna can mature at year 3, and reach 100% reproductive at age 5.  One female can spawn millions of eggs, which means that on any given year when ocean conditions are favorable, recruitment (repopulation) can dramatically increase.  In the case of bluefin tuna, since 2007 commercial capture and catch quotas have been been reduced by 50-75%, which have given the three genetically distinct populations (Atlantic bluefin, Southern Pacific Bluefin, Northern Pacific Bluefin) chance to recover.

  • Common sense:  You don’t have to go far—ask any fisherman who has been offshore fishing in northern Baja California or San Diego, and they will tell you the most plentiful species they caught were bluefin tuna.  If 96% of the bluefin in the Pacific were gone, we would not even SEE this species.  It’s like someone trying to convince you there are no more cars while you’re sitting in rush hour traffic…

  • Weak market demand for bluefin tuna:  During the worldwide recession in 2008-2010 bluefin tuna prices plummeted to record lows (during bad economic times the first thing to go is luxury dining) and most bluefin ranching operations worldwide went out of business.  Contrary to more wild claims from NGOs, the price for bluefin tuna has since never recovered from pre 2007 levels, and the demand for bluefin in Japan is in fact going DOWN due to changes in demographics; the aging population in Japan—the true fish eaters, are dying off, and the younger generations do not have such a reverence to fish.

  • Consider the source:  PEW Foundation, WWF (World Wildlife Foundation), Greenpeace, and other NGOs are purporting the doomsday scenario for northern Pacific bluefin tuna.  Tactics of the NGOs:  In 2011 WWF was quoted in saying “By 2012 bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean will be EXTINCT.”  Later that year the updated third-party stock assessments for Med bluefin reported that by 2016 “record” increases in the Mediterranean bluefin expect to reach levels circa 1970s–which was exactly what the commercial fishing industry was reporting.  After hearing this news the NGOs pulled up stakes and left the Mediterranean.  Their arguments and data were proven incorrect—there was nothing to fight for…Now they are focusing on the Pacific, and claiming 96% of the bluefin are gone from the ocean, when fishermen on the West Coast of North America are reporting the exact opposite.  Sound familiar…?

  • Future strategies in Bluefin ranching:  “Long-term” bluefin tuna farming/ranching is a widely-practiced form of bluefin farming where the farm holds the fish 1-3 years—each year doubling in size.  So instead of fishing 100 tons, fattening, and harvesting 125 tons, “carry-over” fish are left in the pens to grow in size and price.  That same 100 tons two years later will harvest 400 tons.  This method of farming puts much less pressure on the wild stock of bluefin, while at the same time delivering high quality and consistent supply to the market.

  • FCR’s of tuna ranching:  The numbers sound shocking-15:1, which means it takes 15 kilos of sardine to grow 1 kilo of tuna.  Let’s compare apples to apples.  When one refers to an FCR of 1.5:1 in shrimp culture, what we are really saying is it takes 1.5 kilos of DRY pellet feed to make 1.0 kilo of live (WET) shrimp.  Considering a fresh sardine is comprised of 70% water, a 15:1 FCR converted to DRY weight would be 4.5:1, not the most efficient species, but it is a luxury/gourmet item, approximately 3x less efficient than growing a shrimp or tilapia.  There is also the argument that fattening tuna in a pen results in far better survivability compared to wild, plus it is estimated that wild bluefin consume 30:1 (double) the forage fish to grow 1 kg.  An argument that pen-farmed bluefin can be considered “sustainable” if one compares to a wild-caught version??

History and common sense will prove that the “scare” is just that–and that this delicious product is healthy and wholesome, and actually abundant off our North American coast.

Go to a sushi bar, order and eat Bluefin Tuna KNOWING that by no means did that piece of tuna reach the restaurant by some illegal method, but rather through a process of healthy and responsible debate and fishery policy to promote sustainability of this magnificent species, and that there is 100% traceability from the vessel, country of origin, farming operation, harvest, and international export of each individual bluefin tuna.

Enjoy the delicious, melt-in-your-mouth toro.  You are not eating the last free-swimming bluefin in the ocean.  We at Prime Time assure the responsible supply of bluefin tuna for years to come.

 

*Northern Pacific Bluefin tuna are known to reach reproductive age in the following schedule:

Year class Avg kilo Maturity

0-1 5-9 kg

1-2 9-25 kg

3 35 kg 20%

4 60 kg 50%

5 85-100 kg 100%

IN RESPONSE TO RESTAURANTS TAKING BLUEFIN TUNA OFF THEIR MENU:

It’s alarming and depressing to field the never-ending barrage of misinformation regarding so many issues related with tuna—bluefin overfishing, Fukushima, mercury, dolphin-safe, etc.  History and common sense, backed up by science and real data from the fishing grounds, clearly prove the benefits of eating tuna—healthy, high in omega 3 fatty acids, FAR outweigh any potential health concerns.

Regarding the claim of overexploitation of Pacific bluefin, even the marine scientists studying the estimated stocks of bluefin tuna admit there are tremendous holes in the capture data they are analyzing.  They have no explanation of the abundance of juvenile and young adult tuna in the EPO (Eastern Pacific, coast of Mexico and California).

Over the years I have seen and believe that if truthful, accurate science and common-sense information is diseminated, the informed public has demonstrated the ultimate wisdom to make the correct choices.  Contrary to the turtle restoration propaganda, tuna sashimi and seared ahi are as popular as ever, as the public recognizes the benefits of eating fish outweigh the negatives.

The problem is that restaurants and seafood companies often bend to pressures from an extreme few, whereas if they listened to the consensus of their entire clientele–who in reality just want a great seafood experience, their business will not be affected.

There is also the custom and tradition of the Japanese and those who appreciate Japanese food, where bluefin tuna is truly a revered fish that cannot be replaced with tilapia or basa just because it’s easier to cultivate in masse.  It’s insulting that a minority of extremists feel it’s OK to eliminate the choice of foods of others.  There is a custom at the Japanese table to bow and say, “itadakimasu,” prior to partaking in a meal–a ritual giving thanks to the animal or plants that make up the food on the table which basically says, “thank you for giving up your life to nourish me.”  I doubt if such reverence or appreciation of a fish is practiced amongst Americans sitting down for some chicken nuggets and ketchup.

I am not promoting in any way the overfishing or decimation of any of the species that we all study, respect, and revere–from their majestic existence in the oceans to the incredible culinary experience of color, flavor, and texture that these tunas provide.  What should be promoted is a common-sense approach to responsible harvesting and fish farming taking place in our oceans, and that fish and seafood resources are not held to some unrealistic standard, but should be comparable to other foods and industries that necessarily exist in our society on earth.  If you really want to replenish the earths oceans to standards 40-50 years ago, issues of habitat destruction, pollution, or simply put the over-population of humans on this planet needs to be rolled back.  We all know this is impossible (short of the extermination of well over half the human race), so at least there should be a sliding-scale standard with which we should be governed–of course it would be imperfect, but realistic.  In the case of bluefin tuna, it has been proven that by managing the resource by limiting the catch quota and implementing full traceability of the resource, the stock can recover to historic levels or biomass, albeit smaller average sizes in some cases.

Myself and the great majority of the seafood industry are in favor of science-based (not politic-based) fishery and seafood marketing policy, keeping conscious that hundreds of industries and many thousands of jobs (of many Third World countries) are in the balance.  Bluefin tuna are not counted in the hundreds such as polar bears and Bengal tigers.  It is a stretch to compare bluefins on the same level as these endangered species.  Pandas do not spawn 2 millions eggs.

The scientific community is convinced (and it has been proven in the Mediterranean) that bluefin tuna status can and will rebound by managing catch quotas, and all responsible industry players are in agreement.  Without question, commercial fishing and industry are open to compromise and common-sense solutions to move forward.

I hate to rant, but it just kills me to see public opinion be skewed by misinformation provided by NGO’s with radical agendas (while driving fossil fuel vehicles and living “wasteful” American lifestyles…) telling us the oceans have to be restored to its pristine state at the expense of the fishing industry.  The NGO’s raise money from well-meaning, often misinformed public, and hire lawyers to file lawsuits and injunctions, while the fishermen and seafood companies don’t/can’t fight because they are too busy working just to keep their vessels operating and the company doors open.  Unfortunately for the folks who earn their living on the ocean, their lack of resources and wherewithal in the world of legal wrangling and political red tape is the true definition of a “fish out of water.”

Sincerely,

Rex Ito

Prime Time Seafood

 

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Posted in Information, Perspectives, Sustainability