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Western Atlantic Bluefin Tuna

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Limongelli 1
Jack Limongelli
Mrs. Newell
Business and its Publics, Section 2
April 8, 2015
Feeding for a Lifetime: An Analysis of The Current State and Rebuilding Efforts of The Western
Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Population
Give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.
Juxtaposing this proverbial advice with the reality of Thomas Malthus’s Theory of Population reveals a disastrous truth: as the number of fishermen exponentially increases, the fish supply progressively declines. Unfortunately, a Green Revolution that would, in theory, save the plundering fish population has yet to emerge from the depths of science laboratories. Instead, the fishermen who were promised to eat for a lifetime are required to limit their taking from the bounty in an effort to reverse the Malthusian inevitability. This depiction is more than a hyperbolic tale to scare away hungry fishermen. Rather it is a phenomenon that is swimming its course across the Eastern coast of The United States as the Western Atlantic bluefin tuna battles to sustain viable population levels. The Western Atlantic bluefin tuna population is officially acknowledged as an endangered species by the International Union for the Conservation of
Nature. Coupled with the commercial success of the species, the diminished populations have necessitated strict government regulation. Nevertheless, the bluefin tuna remains a common resource subjected to the constraints of economic hunger, creating an inefficient market that reflects the differing interests of stakeholders.
The bluefin tuna industry is relatively young: according to the article entitled,
“Sushinomics- How Bluefin Tuna Became a Million-Dollar Fish” published by The Atlantic, the

Limongelli 2 consumer demand for bluefin tuna was relatively nonexistent in the 1960. In the United States, the fish sold for pennies on the pound and was rarely consumed, but rather ground into cat food.
Similarly, the Japanese rarely ate the fish, associating it with low socio-economic status. As the decade progressed, sushi emerged as the newest fad, with sushi bars becoming commonplace in culinary markets. Because there is a suspicious uncertainty regarding the development of this transition, the documentary The End of The Line suggests Japanese corporations calculatingly propelled the shift in consumer taste in order to create a valuable product to load on commercial airplanes returning from The United States. By 1970, the demand for bluefin tuna had skyrocketed and nearly all of it was being exported to Japan. According to the “Report of the
2010 Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Stock Assessment Session” produced by the International
Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, Western Atlantic bluefin tuna catches reached 18,671 fish in 1965, which was 1750% greater than the 1960 total catch. The catch size then decreased to an average of about 5000 for the 1970’s and just about 2000 since then.
Simultaneously, the Spawning Stock Biomass—the measurement used to assess bluefin tuna population—decreased from 50,000 metric tons in 1970 to 14,000 metric tons in 1994
( Currently, there have been no studies or estimates regarding the spawning stock prior to 1970, yet scientists in the Tag-a-Giant bluefin tuna conservation research program at
Stanford University speculate the statistic to be well over 50,000 metric tons. As a result of government regulation, the stock size has remained fairly consistent, around 140,000 metric tons since 1994. Hence, over the past half-century, the fishermen of American Coastal cities have been hauling in tunas at a rate that the population simply cannot match.
In assessing the current state of the bluefin tuna stock size, it is important to recognize the difference between two fishery terms: overfished and overfishing. Without explaining the math

Limongelli 3 that determines these terms, overfished essentially refers to a state in which the fishing rate is too great for the population to support, while overfishing occurs when the fishing rate exceeds the population rate of reproduction ( Sadly, the bluefin tuna stock is overfished and overfishing is occurring. In practical terms, this diagnosis means the bluefin tuna stock cannot reproduce enough fish to meet the long term demand of fishermen (overfished) and is not being given the opportunity to grow the population (overfishing). These trends, in conjunction with the natural life cycle, have created a disastrous situation that prevents the bluefin tuna from fully recovering. Because it takes about eight years for a bluefin tuna to reach reproductive age, one year of overfishing can severely affect the spawning stock. Further, they are one of the largest migratory fish in the Atlantic Ocean, traveling from Canada to the Carolinas. Interestingly enough, the species formally migrated as far south as the Gulf of Mexico, but the reduced numbers has made that trip very rare. This extended journey means the species encounters more fishermen than do species that remain in a single environment and each fisherman is just as hungry as the last to take his share of the enormous bluefin tuna market.
Each year, Japan holds an enormous auction to celebrate the first sale of the bluefin tuna season. In an interview with KPCC radio, Richard Ellis, author of Tuna: A Love Story, explains,
“the first fish sold for 1.76 million dollars.” While this sale does not necessarily represent the market as a whole, one fish can fetch a fisherman up to 30 dollars a pound or 30,000 as a whole.
This high market price and equally high consumer demand creates a precarious stakeholder dynamic that stretches far beyond the shores of the Atlantic.
Although fishermen want to catch as many fish as possible to maximize their profit, they must conserve the fish in order to ensure the future of the market. Similarly, conservationists,

Limongelli 4 whether governmental or non-profit organizations, want to help increase the tuna population, yet also theoretically need tuna to be caught in order for their campaigns to create a social value that consumers can support. If the sale of tuna were made completely illegal, thus removing the conscious decision by consumers to support conservationist movements, the demand for tuna would remain and could incentivize the creation of bluefin tuna black markets. In their 2012 book entitled Looting the Seas, The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists cites that between 1998 and 2007 four billion dollars worth of unrecorded, and thus illegal, bluefin tuna was caught. So while the fishermen, middlemen, sushi bars, and other stakeholders involved in the sale of tuna champion different interests than conservationist stakeholders, the objectives of the two groups are inherently interconnected.
In order to balance the interests of these different groups, the United States government has enacted the Rebuilding Program suggested by The International Commission for the
Conservation of Atlantic Tunas in 1999. In this plan, the governments of the United States,
Canada, Japan, The United Kingdom, and France, split a total allowable catch measurement, as determined by the ICCAT. As reported in Recommendation by ICCAT to Establish a Rebuilding
Program for Western Atlantic Bluefin Tuna, the total allowable catch for 1999 was 2500 metric tons, 1387 metric tons of which was allocated to the United States. The report continues to explain revaluation techniques that will be employed every three years to reassess the total allowable catch. Ironically, the total allowable catch for 2015 is now set at 2000 metric tons,
20% lower than the initial value, meaning the bluefin tuna population has not recovered since the start of this program.
Truthfully, there are a few possible explanations for the mishap. The enormous amount of aforementioned illegal fishing could be to blame. Perhaps the technology and techniques used to

Limongelli 5 measure the spawning stock in 1999 were not as advanced as they now are and therefore did not provide the ICCAT with a reliable measurement. Conceivably, ICCAT may have experienced pressure from fishermen organizations or even the Japanese government to advise a total allowable catch that would still sustain the industry. Regardless, the program experienced little success in the initial years: the spawning stock decreased from 15,000 metric tons in 1998 to
11,000 metric tons in 2003 (
Beyond the ICCAT total catch allowance, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration also determines a minimum length requirement, 73 inches, and a narrow fishing season, January 1 to March 31. Because the most popular bluefin tuna fishing method in the
United States is long line fishing, which is essentially just rod and real fishing, fish that do not measure 73 inches can be released safely into the wild (ICCAT 2010 Stock Assessments). This is a key aspect of conservationist efforts because it allows young tuna to mature and grow to an age that enables them to reproduce. Further, the tight fishing season supports not only population growth but also the fishermen. It provides the population with uncontended recovery time for nine months, yet it also incites competition among tuna fishermen.
Although the twenty-year rebuilding program proposed by the ICCAT experienced no success in the first seven years, the bluefin spawning stock has currently increased to just less than 15,000 metric tons, nullifying the original detrimental effects. This can most likely be attributed to more conservative total catch allowances following 2003. Despite this newfound success, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature continues to recognize the
Western Atlantic bluefin tuna as an endangered species. Nevertheless, the ICCAT has theoretically created an environment that should satisfy both fishermen and conservationists.

Limongelli 6
While the total catch of fishermen may be limited, the market value of the fish most likely increased: a decreased supply results in a greater market price in order to reach equilibrium. As a result, those fishermen who catch more than or equal to the amount of fish they would catch without the quota actually benefit from the higher market price. The remaining negative effects are spread throughout the entire industry and thus do not decimate any significant amount of fishermen. Simultaneously, newfound success of the program has recently begun to meet the expectations of conservationists.
Nonetheless, conservationists have not completely surrendered control to the ICCAT. A key approach of these organizations is to curb the outrageous demand for bluefin tuna through increased consumer awareness. Rupert Murray’s documentary, The End of the Line, along with its partners Blue Marine Foundation and Fish2Fork, endorses an “ask before you buy” program that offers consumers pocket guides and smart phone apps that provide its users with information that promotes sustainable seafood decisions. Not only does this program attempt to reduce market demand for bluefin tuna, but it further expands the support group behind conservationist groups, an invaluable asset.
This combination of conservative legal regulation and increased consumer awareness may be the tuna’s greatest opportunity for revival and the tuna industry’s worst nightmare. Not only does the double fronted attack regulate the amount of tuna extracted from the oceans, but it also decreases the demand for tuna, which will drive the market price. However, if the market price falls past a certain threshold, tuna fisherman will have no incentive to catch the fish and will thus redirect their efforts toward other species, potentially restarting this vicious cycle of over consumption.

Limongelli 7
So, who is to blame? Does responsibility fall on the money-oriented fishermen? Perhaps the tuna-crazed consumers are at fault? Or is it simply the nature of a market economy? The lack of specific ownership over the bluefin tuna population creates a demand-fueled cascade of over consumption that leads to an inevitable demise. However, as a result of stakeholders who appraise the bluefin tuna’s ecological value to be greater than its economic value, the population has begun to reverse the tides as it slowly expands. While the fishing restrictions may not be immediately beneficial to fishermen, they sustain both the population and the industry: a combination that should satisfy all stakeholders. Although these multifaceted forms of rebuilding have experienced success, they must stay fluid and dynamic in order to respond to ever changing market forces as they work to feed many men for many lifetimes.

Limongelli 8
Work Cited
Casey, Michael. "Sushi Eaters Pushing Pacific Bluefin Tuna to Brink of Extinction." CBSNEWS
(2014): Web. 7 Apr. 2015.
Corson, Trevor. "Why I Don't Miss Bluefin Sushi." The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 19
Nov. 2009. Web. 07 Apr. 2015.
International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas. Recommendation by ICCAT to Establish a Rebuilding Program for Western Atlantic Bluefin Tuna. Rep. no. 98-7.
International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas. REPORT OF THE 2010
International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas. REPORT OF THE
2014. Print.
International Union for the Conservation of Nature "Thunnus Thynnus." (Atlantic Bluefin Tuna).
International Union for the Conservation of Nature, Web. 07 Apr. 2015.
Kiger, Patrick J. "Bluefin Tuna 101 Biology, Ecology, Economics, and Politics." National
Geographic Channel. National Geographic Channel, 20 Mar. 2012. Web. 7 Apr. 2015.
Narula, Svati K. "Sushinomics: How Bluefin Tuna Became a Million-Dollar Fish." The Atlantic.
Atlantic Media Company, 05 Jan. 2014. Web. 07 Apr. 2015.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "FishWatch." NOAA. National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration, Web. 07 Apr. 2015.

Limongelli 9
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "NMFS Permit Shop News." NMFS Permit
Shop News. National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 1 Apr. 2015. Web. 07 Apr. 2015.
Ospar Commission. Background Document for Atlantic Bluefin Tunas. Rep. no. 624/2014. Print.
Tag-a-Giant. "Stock Status of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna." Stock Status of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna.
Tag-a-Giant, Web. 07 Apr. 2015.
"The End of the Line | ASK BEFORE YOU BUY." The End of the Line. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Apr.
The End of the Line. Dir. Rupert Murray. Perf. Ted Danson. Docuramafilms, DVD.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Looting the Seas. Print.

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