The bluefin tuna is a magnificent creature, built for speed and hunting with the sharpest vision of any bony fish. But despite their impressive abilities, these fish are in serious trouble.
Overfishing has led to a decline in their populations, with some species now classified as critically endangered. Workers in distant-water tuna fishing fleets also face a high risk of death and injury.
So just how many tuna are killed each year? Let’s take a closer look at the numbers and explore what can be done to protect these incredible creatures.
How Many Tuna Are Killed Each Year?
According to the latest data, it’s estimated that around 2.6 million tons of tuna are caught each year. This includes all species of tuna, not just the bluefin.
Of this total catch, it’s difficult to determine exactly how many tuna are killed each year. However, we do know that overfishing has led to a decline in populations, with some species now at risk of extinction.
For example, the western subset of Atlantic bluefin tuna has seen a 64% decline in population since 1970 due to overfishing. Longlines used to catch other fish like swordfish and yellowfin have inadvertently caught and killed many bluefin tuna in the process.
In addition, workers in distant-water tuna fishing fleets face a high risk of death and injury. The U.S. Distant Water Tuna Fleet saw 14 workers killed and 20 injured from 2006 to 2012 alone.
The Decline Of Bluefin Tuna Populations
Bluefin tuna are highly sought after in the food industry, particularly for sushi and canned tuna. However, the continued demand for these products has led to overfishing and a significant decline in bluefin tuna populations. Atlantic bluefin tuna populations have declined by 72-82% across the Atlantic Ocean in the past 40 years. Pacific bluefin tuna populations have declined even further, with the latest stock assessment showing a decline of 97.4% from its historic, unfished size. Southern bluefin tuna populations have also been severely impacted by overfishing.
Overfishing is not the only cause for the decline of bluefin tuna populations. Aquaculture, where young bluefin tuna are captured and raised in captivity to ensure they grow larger, also reduces the wild population of these animals. Ecological disasters such as oil spills can also affect the population of these fish.
Bluefin tuna grow and mature much slower than other fish, which means it takes longer for populations to increase. As overfishing and aquaculture continue, it is difficult for populations to keep up with these declines. Without swift action from fishery managers and international organizations, the future looks dire for these endangered species.
The Impact Of Overfishing On Tuna Populations
Overfishing has had a significant impact on tuna populations, with some species now at risk of extinction. Tuna are a top predator in the marine food chain, and their loss can result in an upset of the ecological balance. When predators like tuna are removed from the ecosystem, populations of prey species can expand, leading to a destabilized food web and marine environment.
The Bluefin Tuna, in particular, is a top predator responsible for keeping populations below them in the food chain in check. Overfishing has led to a decline in Bluefin Tuna populations, which could have drastic effects on the ocean ecosystem. Scientists predict that the demise of the Bluefin Tuna will lead to an increase in the squid population, which will then decrease the sardine population – another creature that supports the fishing industry. The extinction of the Bluefin Tuna could also lead to humans fishing lower down the food chain, negatively affecting the populations of a variety of other fish.
Overfishing not only threatens tuna populations but also leads to a loss of biological diversity and can result in a reduction in species populations. In extreme cases, overfishing can even lead to the extinction of a species. Moreover, overfishing produces short-term economic gains but comes at significant environmentally detrimental outcomes.
The decline of tuna populations could threaten food supply chains and jobs around the world, as well as potentially destabilizing the underwater food web. Tuna are both predators and prey, eating smaller fish and invertebrates and serving as a food source for larger marine life such as sharks and whales. If we lose tuna due to overexploitation, we break those links in the food web and disrupt the function of the ecosystem. This means that the survival of other species in the ecosystem is also threatened.
It’s crucial to address overfishing and implement sustainable fishing practices to prevent further decline in tuna populations and protect the ocean ecosystem as a whole.
The Dangers Faced By Workers In Tuna Fishing Fleets
Workers in distant-water tuna fishing fleets face some of the most dangerous working conditions of any fishing fleet. A recent report from NIOSH found that workers in the U.S. Distant Water Tuna Fleet faced a greater risk of death and injury than workers in almost all other types of fishing fleets. The report found that 14 workers were killed and 20 were injured from 2006 to 2012, during which time the fleet increased to 39 vessels from 14.
The risks faced by these workers are due in part to the remote locations where they operate. The U.S. Distant Water Tuna Fleet operates in remote parts of the Pacific Ocean, making it difficult to conduct medical evacuations or search-and-rescue operations. This means that if a worker is injured or falls overboard, it can be difficult or impossible to get them the help they need.
The report found that six of the fatalities in the fleet were caused by falls overboard, while two occurred after the vessel flooded and capsized. Other causes included worn or overloaded cables, asphyxiation, and head trauma after a frozen 80-pound tuna struck a worker in the head during off-loading.
The work-related mortality rate in the fleet was 226 deaths per 100,000 full-time workers for 2006-2012. This is significantly higher than the average workplace fatality rate of 3.2, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
NIOSH’s safety recommendations for workers in distant-water tuna fishing fleets include having each worker wear a personal flotation device and close-toe footwear at all times while on deck. However, despite these recommendations, workers in these fleets continue to face significant risks to their health and safety.
The Number Of Tuna Killed Each Year: Statistics And Estimates
While it’s difficult to determine the exact number of tuna killed each year, some estimates suggest that the global tuna catch includes around 500,000 tons of Atlantic bluefin tuna. This is a significant number considering the population decline of this species due to overfishing.
In the pelagic longline fishery alone, which targets species like swordfish and yellowfin, it’s estimated that there were 5.3 metric tons of dead discards for bluefin tuna in 2020. This means that even though these tuna were not the intended catch, they were still caught and killed in the process.
Furthermore, the Atlantic bluefin tuna fishery in the Mediterranean Sea is the most important in the world and has been subject to strict regulations to prevent overfishing. Despite these efforts, the population of Atlantic bluefin tuna has declined by 64% since 1970.
It’s not just the bluefin tuna that are at risk. All species of tuna are caught and killed each year, with some populations declining rapidly due to overfishing. The workers in distant-water tuna fishing fleets also face a high risk of death and injury, highlighting the dangers of this industry.
The Consequences Of Continued Tuna Fishing And Consumption
Continued tuna fishing and consumption can have severe consequences for both the environment and human health. The increasing demand for tuna has led to overfishing, which has negatively impacted tuna stocks. For example, bigeye and yellowfin tuna, two of the key species in the Coral Triangle region, are now on the verge of becoming overfished. Overfishing of these key marine predators can upset the ecological balance of this global center of marine biodiversity.
Moreover, as the world tries to satiate its appetite for this popular meal, adult tuna fish are being caught faster than they can breed. This has led to a decline in populations and has put many species at serious risk of extinction. In fact, in 2011, the International Union for Conservation of Nature classified seven of the 61 known tuna species in a threatened category.
Furthermore, tuna fishing and consumption have also been linked to various health risks. Tuna is rich in mercury, a toxic metal that can accumulate in the human body and cause serious health problems such as neurological disorders and developmental delays. Pregnant women and young children are particularly vulnerable to mercury poisoning.
In addition, tuna fisheries are associated with major supply chain risks such as overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, and the bycatch of threatened and endangered species. These activities threaten the sustainability of fisheries, marine ecosystems, and livelihoods.
To address these issues, countries need to adopt evidence-based solutions that focus on sustainable fishing methods that reduce environmental impact and minimize bycatch. Consumers can also play their part by ensuring that the tuna they buy is sustainably sourced. Ultimately, it is essential to strike a balance between meeting the demand for tuna while ensuring that it is done in an environmentally sustainable manner.
Solutions For Protecting Tuna Populations And Promoting Sustainable Fishing Practices
Protecting tuna populations and promoting sustainable fishing practices is essential to ensure the health of our oceans, fishing economies, and food security. Here are some solutions that can help achieve this goal:
1. Adopting Rights-Based Fishery Management Tools: This approach entails giving entities such as individuals, communities, companies, or fishing vessels the right to fish in a particular place at a particular time while adhering to certain limits. One of the most effective policies under this approach is catch-share programs, which incentivize smarter and timelier fishing rather than a race to catch as much stock as possible. These programs also promote a healthy balance between the needs of people, the ocean, and the economy while guaranteeing healthier fish populations.
2. Implementing Strong Management Measures: Countries and RFMOs must set strong management measures to ensure that catch levels are sustainable for sharks and other fish species around the world. Management regulations can include catch quotas, limiting the length of a fishing season or number of available licenses, fishing gear restrictions (e.g., mesh size of net), mandatory use of gear attachments to reduce bycatch, required training in best practices, and designated no-fishing areas. Monitoring and enforcement of these regulations are also essential for a successful management plan.
3. Certifications: There are certifications such as the MSC certification that guarantee that producers have used sustainable methods for tuna fishing. The MSC certification ensures that tuna fisheries and suppliers are following consistent guidance to safeguard tuna populations and promote sustainability. This standard was developed by a wide range of experts including scientists, fishing industry representatives, and regulators.
4. Consumer Education: Consumers play a significant role in promoting sustainable fishing practices by choosing to eat only sustainable seafood. They can use seafood guides such as Seachoice and Seafood Watch pocket guides, iPhone or Android app to make good seafood choices at the grocery store or restaurant. They can also ask their restaurant if the fish is sustainable and what seafood they have on their menu that is sustainable. Just asking them will make them look into sustainable seafood.
By implementing these solutions, we can protect tuna populations and promote sustainable fishing practices while ensuring the health of our oceans and food security for generations to come.