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Gulf, fisheries, and death: already low bluefin tuna stocks to suffer


Bluefin stunt footage: courtesy of Greenpeace.

Greg Harman

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While fishing families along the Gulf are in for a world of hurt from the still-spreading BP oil spill â?? as are the crabs, shrimp, and redfish they depend upon â?? a larger open-water fish found in every grocery store in America may be facing more disastrous consequences: the western Atlantic bluefin tuna.

“That is one species I am most concerned about,” said Gary Graham, a longtime marine fisheries specialist with Texas Sea Grant Extension, told the Current. “That area where that well was is near, if it's not the ground, it's very near a very important spawning ground for bluefin tuna.” Before most commercial tuna production in the Gulf began to be ramped back in the 1980s out of concern for dwindling stocks, both Japanese and U.S. fleets targeted the waters near the site of the Deepwater Horizon rig that exploded on April 22, he said.

Adding to his tuna worries is Graham's belief that the fish had released their eggs into the Gulf in the days before the well blowout. “Fish produced during that time never did fetch a price because the fat content was law” indicating they had already spawned, he said.

While the adult bluefin have likely headed out to the Atlantic Ocean, researchers with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are drawing thin-meshed plankton nets near to the spill area, seeking to quantify the impact of what has become the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history on the larval tuna. And the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity has filed a formal petition for the listing of both the western and eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna as endangered species under U.S. law.

Due to the tuna's wide-ranging habits, they have to be managed internationally. Three months ago, a motion supported by the U.S. to list the Atlantic bluefin at the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species was voted down after intense lobbying by tuna-hungry Japan, causing activists to declare the body had “set the species on a pathway to extinction.”

Like everything spill related, the full scope of the impact on the tuna will take time to become clear. “In terms of knowing how the spill may affect the bluefin tuna, the western stock, that will be some time before we know,” a NOAA spokesperson told the Current. “We tend to rely on landings data â?¦ and you don't land these babies until they're a lot bigger.”

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