Return of bluefin tuna in Atlantic waters

While bluefin tuna is listed as an endangered species, some fishermen and scientists are observing its return to the Atlantic. So much so that US ocean managers have authorized an increase of about 17% of the quotas for this summer, much to the chagrin of environmental activists.

A decade ago, participants in New England’s largest fishing tournament, the most recent of which took place in South Portland in early August, could spend several consecutive years without capturing a single fish. in the Gulf of Maine.

This year, the fishermen have set a record with 30 catches.

Their unprecedented harvest comes at a crucial time for these giant tunas, an iconic species that scientists say is slowly recovering in the Atlantic Ocean.

The re-emergence of bluefin tuna, which can weigh more than half a ton, has sparked debates among fishermen, conservationists and scientists about how far this giant has recovered.

Populations are still only a fraction of their level 60 years ago.

A fish that pays big

The status of tuna as a premium fish in the preparation of sushi and sashimi makes it particularly popular in Japan.

This fish, able to cross the Atlantic in 60 days, has been exploited by humans for centuries and annual global sales are in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

A single bluefin tuna sold over 1.75 million US dollars at a 2013 auction in Japan.

Bluefin tuna is listed as Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, largely because of years of overfishing.

But international regulators are of the opinion that the species has recovered sufficiently to support more intensive fishing. US ocean managers have authorized a quota increase of about 17 percent this summer.

The decision prompted environmental groups to renew their calls for quota maintenance.

Shana Miller, head of the tuna conservation program at the Ocean Foundation, says an increase in quotas of several hundred thousand pounds is excessive.

The intensification of the tuna fishery is a bad idea because it may lead to overfishing, says Miller. There is also concern that increasing global warming may delay the reproduction of these large fish.

A population difficult to count

Uncertainty persists among scientists about the status of the tuna population, says Grantly Galland, marine biologist and global tuna conservation officer for The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Any decrease in the current population is bad for long-term fishermen.

Grantly Galland, marine biologist

The quota increase amounts to almost 341,000 kilograms when quotas are added to the United States and other countries fishing for tuna in the West Atlantic, including Canada.

Management of Atlantic bluefin tuna is more complex than for many other fish species because it crosses many international borders as it migrates for food and spawning.

Last year, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas – which has about 50 member countries, including the United States – released a report describing the species as re-established but still facing challenges.

Although the commission has decided to increase the quota for American fishermen this year, the species will still be closely monitored, says Brad McHale, Fisheries Management Specialist with the US Agency for Ocean and Atmospheric Observation ( NOAA).

-We can not harvest more than can be replenished naturally,- says McHale. It’s a constant struggle »

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