• 11.24.08

Fate of the Tuna

By tonight we’ll know whether one of the world’s most important commercial fish will survive into the next century.

Back in the ’90s the giant bluefin swimming off Cape Cod were known as “Toyotas” because a lucky fisherman could buy a truck with the proceeds of a single fish.


But the worldwide appetite for sushi has driven this breed to the brink of commercial extinction. ICCAT, the international commission that’s supposed to oversee the Atlantic bluefin fishery, has been so toothless that it was branded an “international disgrace” this spring by its own internal review. ICCAT’s own scientists say the true sustainable catch would be half of current quotas, which is maybe a quarter of what actually gets caught–pirate fish, aka the unappetizing “gray tuna”, is a huge problem.

This week ICCAT has been meeting in Morocco and the stage is set for a dramatic reversal. Historically, Japan with its love for sushi and whaling, has stood in the way of every international fishing agreement. Now, Mitsubishi Inc, the largest importer of tuna into Japan (which is the clearinghouse for much of the world’s tuna) has issued a statement calling for  “lower quotas, shorter seasons, an increase in minimum size of tuna that can be fished, and the protection of tuna spawning grounds

According to my friends at Greenpeace, Mitsubishi, part of the same family of companies better known in the US for cars, has actually seen the light and realized business as usual means no more bluefin. Following industry’s lead, the Japanese ICCAT delegation is now leading the charge for an immediate moratorium on Atlantic bluefin and halving the annual catch.  Now the question is whether ICCAT can make a meaningful change for the long term by cutting, and crucially, enforcing quotas. In a letter to delegates before the meeting began, Fábio Hazin, ICCAT’s chairman, said this is its “last chance to prove we can do our job properly.”


About the author

She’s the author of Generation Debt (Riverhead, 2006) and DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, (Chelsea Green, 2010). Her next book, The Test, about standardized testing, will be published by Public Affairs in 2015.