Stop eating Pacific bluefin tuna

One of Japan’s favorite foods is about to become harder to get and more expensive. Consumers may soon discover just how rapidly Pacific bluefin tuna stocks are being depleted. A survey in July found that the Pacific bluefin stock of over 3 years old has fallen to near record lows. In response, Japan has proposed a 15 percent cut in catches of tuna three years old and under.

The current crisis should come as no surprise since the same problem happened with Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks. Those Atlantic tuna populations have been depleted to levels from which they may not recover and though Pacific stocks are larger, Japan’s proposal may be too little too late.

Most scientific committees and studies, such as the International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-like Species In the North Pacific Ocean and the World Wildlife Fund, have pointed out that current levels of fishing are unsustainable.

At least the Japanese government has finally recognized the essential problem of overconsumption and overfishing of popular fish. However, the United States, also a major fisher of Pacific bluefin tuna, is seeking a 25 percent reduction. Hopefully, Japan can be convinced to increase the reduction to at least match the American proposal.

The Fisheries Agency said it will hold a gathering to ask fishermen to refrain from catching young Pacific bluefin tuna, but this soft approach is unlikely to have much effect. What is needed is a consensus-based, international set of rules with real consequences. Without enforcement, such “polite requests” are unlikely to do much.

Japan has a special obligation to help protect the population. After all, Japan introduced sushi and sashimi to the world, a culinary achievement of which it can be proud. However, the level of consumption has skyrocketed both here and abroad.

Japan ate 13,324 tons of the 17,651 tons of Pacific bluefin caught in 2011. Mexico took much of the rest of the annual catch. Japan should work harder to make it imperative that sustainable fishing becomes standard practice.

Consumers and restaurants might also want to reconsider their habits. At many of the best sushi and sashimi restaurants around the world, Atlantic bluefin tuna, whose populations were depleted more quickly than in the Pacific, has already been banned from menus. The same ban may need to be considered with Pacific bluefin tuna if agreements cannot be reached.

Voluntary domestic regulations in Japan would ease some of the burden, but the best solution is for tuna lovers to stop eating tuna and restaurants to stop serving it until the population can return to safe levels. As the world’s biggest consumer of Pacific bluefin, Japan should work to ensure that stocks do not become depleted. Restrictions must be implemented and enforced before it is too late.

  • pervertt

    The real possibility of ingesting cesium 137 might be a more persuasive reason not to eat bluefin tuna.

  • One needs to appreciate that eating fish is a healthy outcome for human diet, also that countries like Australia are now developing fish farming capacity. They seem to have overcome technical fish breeding issues (i.e. disease resistance). What is good to see is govts responding. Let’s however not destroy the livelihoods of fisherman by sweeping arbitrary decisions. Fish farming promises a lot, though they will need cheap sources of fish meal to feel their stocks. I understand this remains an issue. Companies doing this in Australia include Tassal (Tasmania) and Clean Seas Tuna (Sth Australia). Surprisingly, you might have expected more financial support for these companies by Japanese trading companies. These producers are doubling production of farmed fish. See

    • Padraigin

      Uhh Andrew. Andrew, hell-ooo. Pervertt calling. Cesium 137 + all those additional nuclear meltdown nutrients in the Pacific food chain, just, just might be the issue here. Not ignoring, of course, the fish farming hazards of antibiotics and the like in our food chain. And so, by inductive and deductive forms of common sense, fish used to be a healthy alternative. Sadly, no longer. Particularly not Pacific, US West coast, Canadian fish stocks. I think not.

      The sea has lost its allure, due to some humans ability to turn gold into manure.

  • abinico

    At a recent west coast soiree of investment bankers and the like, all of their seafood was flown in from the east coast. Food for thought.

  • Ururoa

    Yep, and in 2006 Japan admitted to overfishing its Southern Blue Fin tuna quote by a whopping 25%!! I wish the nations of the Sth. Pacific would get their act together and ban all tuna fishing completely until populations have a chance to recover. The greedy commercial fishing companies really don’t give a damn about sustainability, especially those that don’t have to answer to the locals. In NZ now we rarely see tuna, whereas even as recently as ten years ago large schools could be seen off the east coast of the north island over the spring and summer months and they were a popular recreational fishing target.

  • Pat

    Resource depletion cannot be halted by restrictions alone; what’s wrong with allocating funds to introduce large quantities of hatchery spawned juvenile fish into the oceans and then using a tax to recover the costs when these stocks mature? Is it scientifically or culturally inconceivable to leave ignorance, barbarism, and short-sighted attitudes in the past? If you are a professional in this branch of marine science, please respond to this question.

  • EQ

    “Japan ate 13,324 tons of the 17,651 tons of Pacific bluefin caught in 2011”. At this rate, this country will eat the Pacific Blue Fin Tuna into extinction…Then what?

  • Richard Wilcox

    The point is, radiation keeps going into the ocean. Seafood used to be thought of as healthy, but it is less and less so every day. You may eat fish with little radiation or a higher amount, either way not a good option.