Diners are pushing bluefin tuna to the brink of extinction

·5-min read

What comes to mind whenever you hear "tuna"? The nice sashimi in Japanese restaurants, or rows upon rows of huge fish in at auctions?

Are you aware that while we enjoy delicious sashimi, bluefin tuna are facing extinction? Man’s insatiable desire is causing irreversible damage to nature and these marvellous creatures.

ATLANTIC BLUEFIN TUNA, Thunnus thynnus, Scombridae, school of juveniles, The Azores, Atlantic Ocean
Bluefin tuna are extremely fast swimmers with speed of up to 70kmh. They can also dive over 5,000m deep.

Traits of the bluefin tuna

There are three bluefin species: Southern (often found in the waters of the Southern Hemisphere), Pacific and Atlantic (usually found in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea).

These gigantic fish can grow to over 4m long, and because of their huge bodies, they've been the top predators in the ocean for a long time. Only sharks and whales can compete with them.

But no matter how powerful they sound, they are no match for humanity's voracious appetite for food. The Atlantic bluefin tuna is classified as "endangered" on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species while the southern bluefin tuna is listed as "critically endangered".

Studies have shown that the Atlantic bluefin tuna population has declined by at least 51 per cent, placing them in a critical state.

With Yahoo Augmented Reality technology, you can experience bluefin tuna auctions with just a tap of your smartphone!

Fun facts about bluefin tuna

Nomads of the ocean:

Bluefin tuna are endurance swimmers and can easily swim for 60 days across the Atlantic Ocean. They are also very fast, travelling with a speed of up to 70kmh, and can dive up to 5,000m deep.

Prolific:

Atlantic bluefin tuna breed when they are between eight to ten years old. During mating season, they will gather, with each female tuna carrying around 40 million eggs. Truly prolific!

Schooled:

You may have seen groups of tuna swimming in the sea. They tend to group together to spawn and hunt, which makes it easier to catch them with a single net.

Gourmet food in Japanese restaurants:

You've probably heard of the massive 276kg bluefin tuna that was sold for a staggering S$2.44 million at the beginning of 2020.

The juicy and flavourful texture of the fish has made it a pricey ingredient. A giant tuna can be sold for more than US$100,000 (approx. S$133,400) in auctions at the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo.

This highly profitable business has driven excessive tuna fishing by merchants and organisations.

Kiyoshi Kimura (C), president of Kiyomura Corp., the Tokyo-based operator of sushi restaurant chain Sushizanmai, displays a dismantled bluefin tuna the company bought for 193.2 million yen (1.8 million USD) at auction at his main restaurant in Tokyo on January 5, 2020. - Kiyomura Corp. made the winning bid of 1.8 million USD for a 276-kilogram bluefin tuna caught off Oma, Aomori prefecture at the first auction of the year earlier in the day at Tososu fish market. (Photo by Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP) (Photo by KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP via Getty Images)
This huge bluefin tuna that weighed 276 kg was sold for ¥190 million (S$2.44 million) at the beginning of 2020. (Kazuhiro NOGI/AFP)

Bluefin crisis

Compared to other endangered species, the only challenge that the bluefin tuna faces is overfishing, which is related to an underlying, complex food culture and history.

Nowhere to hide

As many fishing boats are equipped with sonar units, schools of tuna have nowhere to hide.

Many Japanese groups not only fish and catch the tuna around the Mediterranean Sea, but also hoard the fish for higher profits even though the International Union for Conservation of Nature has identified bluefin tuna as “critically endangered” (like the panda) on its Red List of Threatened Species.

As the biggest consumer of bluefin tuna, Japan has been shipping the fish from the US and Canada in planeloads since the 1960s or 1970s.

In the annual New Year auctions, bluefin tuna always attract the most attention. Japanese sushi chain operators compete for them and slice them up for sale on the spot. The auction culture makes bluefin tuna the stars in Asian markets.

The challenge bluefin tuna face is related to food culture and history.
The challenge bluefin tuna face is related to food culture and history.

In addition, bluefin tuna can also be illegally exported to different regions, including Hong Kong.

Hong Kongers consume over 107 tonnes of bluefin tuna on average a year. The lack of regulation and law enforcement leaves the market open for bluefin tuna, which makes it even harder to curb overfishing.

Because of their unique characteristics and sizes, it is difficult to breed bluefin tuna in a farm environment. It’s no surprise that the bluefin tuna population has plummeted by 90 per cent since the 1970s, creating a huge impact on both the ecosystem and tuna fishing industry.

What can we do?

In affluent Asian countries like Hong Kong, a person may consume an average of 71.8kg of seafood annually, three times higher than the global average.

If every consumer takes a small step to make the change, it will be possible for bluefin tuna to bounce back.

Close-up of box for McDonald's Filet-o-fish sandwich, with MSC certified sustainable seafood seal, part of sustainability efforts at the fast food chain, Coalingua, California, October 26, 2019. (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)
MSC certified seafood has a lower impact on the marine ecology. (Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

Stop the purchase and promotion of any species of bluefin tuna

Organisations, restaurant customers and individuals should stop the import and consumption of bluefin tuna.

In the past two years, the Hong Kong government has attached more importance to the conservation of bluefin tuna, and no Hong Kong-based restaurant groups have participated in the “Best of Japan” New Year bluefin tuna auction held in Tsukiji fish market.

Choose MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) certified tuna and other eco-friendly seafood

Refer to the MSC selection guides when buying seafood.

There are three levels of fisheries.

“Unconditional Pass” means that they are sustainable for the environment, “Conditional Pass" means they may have an impact on the environment, and “Fail” means they have a serious impact on the environment.

These three levels are not only determined by seafood species, but also the place of origin, the local ecological conservation laws, fishing methods, how the fish are bred and other factors.

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