Saving the bluefin tuna: an expert explains Canada's bind - Macleans.ca
 

Saving the bluefin tuna: an expert explains Canada’s bind

“If you look at it from a Canadian perspective, you’d almost say, this is crazy.”


 

News that Canada sided with Japan in opposing a United Nations ban on exports of bluefin tuna at first sounded like an embarrassing case of Ottawa being on the wrong side on a pressing conservation issue.

The bluefin is an iconic species: big, fast, wide-ranging, dangerously depleted—and incredibly valuable for sushi, which is why Japan took its stand. The Canadian government’s refusal to side with U.S. in supporting ban on the bluefin trade under the UN”s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, known as CITES, seemed to put the Harper government squarely in the camp of environmental bad actors.

But the situation isn’t quite that clear-cut. Although Canada might indeed be on the wrong side of the CITES debate, this isn’t an extension of irresponsible fisheries policy when it comes to bluefin.

I called marine biologist Mike Stokesbury, senior project manager of Dalhousie University’s Ocean Tracking Network, who co-authored a bluefin population study published in Nature, to try to sort it out. Here’s an edited version of our conversation:

Q. What’s the first thing we need to know about bluefin tuna?

A. These are highly migratory animals. They cross the ocean and go great distances. Only recently have we had an idea of the stock structure and how they mix. Basically there is an eastern stock in the Mediterranean, which has been fished for thousands of years—the Romans had a bluefin on a coin—and there’s a smaller western stock on our side of the Atlantic Ocean. They mix throughout the Atlantic.

Q. So what’s the state of the bluefins Canadians fish, the western stock?

A. The western population was fished down really heavily in the Seventies and early Eighties. The estimates are now 12 to 15 per cent of its pre-fisheries abundance.

Q. Who did most of that over-fishing?

A. The Americans mostly. The smaller bluefins keep in the south a bit because they can’t stand the cold temperatures. So the ones that make it to Canadian waters are really the big ones. During the Seventies and Eighties the Americans had these purse seine fisheries, where they’d surround a whole school and take them. They fished the juveniles really hard. At the same time, the Japanese used to long-line in the Gulf of Mexico, which is the breeding ground. So you had the adults being hit by the Japanese, the small ones being hit by the Americans.

Q. But fishing of the western population has been less intensive since the mid-Eighties?

A. Yes. The population has been at a very low level, but a steady level. Recently, the American fishery has crashed, possibly because the fish are moving north because of warmer temperatures as the climate changes.

Q. What about the fishery over on the European side?

A. They had no quotas for a long time, then really high quotas. There’s a lot of illegal fishing and a lot of over fishing. That population has crashed to 15 or 18 per cent of what it was in the 1970s.

Q. Who’s doing most of the fishing there?

A.  A lot of countries. France, Spain, Portugal. There’s some Japanese quota. This whole CITES thing was aimed at the eastern population. The fishing is just so out of control there.

Q. Why not just ban fishing of the eastern stocks then?

A. The way CITES works, for bluefin you’d have to list both stocks because they mingle up in the North Atlantic. You’re out in the middle of the ocean, just west of the Flemish Cap, and you catch one, you don’t know if it’s from the eastern or western stock.

Q. If the western population hasn’t been grossly over-fished for about 25 years, has population rebounded?

A. My perception is they brought the fishing levels down in the west quite far so the projections were that the stocks would come back. But that hasn’t happened, which is why some of the research projects I’ve been involved with were initiated.

Q. Why hasn’t the western population hasn’t recovered?

A. One reason is mixing on the feeding grounds. A lot of our fish cross the imaginary line in the middle of the Atlantic and get caught by other countries. Another thing is that this is imperfect science: these things are hard to figure out and manage.

Q. The Canadian government claims our bluefin practices are exemplary. Are they?

A. It really is true. In Canada the bluefin industry is really well regulated. The fishermen obey all the rules. It’s really well done.

Q. So it’s a sensible policy for Ottawa to present itself as a model?

A. Canada’s quota has traditionally been less than one per cent of the Atlantic and Mediterranean quota. So we’re a really small player. And these other countries either don’t have the will or don’t have the ability to manage their fisheries in the way that we do.

Q. Sounds like Canada’s in a bind. Our fishery is fine, but we can’t realistically expect others to follow suit. Does that leave the export ban as the only solution after all?

A. If you look at it from a Canadian perspective, you’d almost say, this is crazy. Why would we sign up for an export ban? The U.S. has a domestic market to sell bluefin into—they’re net importers of bluefin. So a CITES ban would have no effect on their fishery. Canada, on the other hand, has no domestic market: our industry would just go


 
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Saving the bluefin tuna: an expert explains Canada’s bind

  1. this fish is so delicious, but what's depressing is that the only time i ever tried the fish was in los angeles. it was inexpensive and labeled, "from canada". i have never seen it EVER being sold in canada.

    • the majority of it gets exported to japan..

    • I am bothered by things like this too. Blue fin tuna tastes good so why isn't it sold here. I am sure the domestic demand could consume that 1%.

      • Not at the prices Japanese will pay for it.

    • I agree with you :) I like fishes very much :D

  2. Sounds like an awful lot of self-serving rationalization to absolve our government of its actions. You protest too much.

    • Could you be a little more specific? Or not?

      • Could you try a little more thinking? Or not?

  3. This is crazy. Tuna has traditionally always been among the cheap foods on the supermarket shelves – but clearly has only become so because of the factory harvesting in the last 3 decades or more.
    Other types of tuna seem to be hanging in. I hope they do not become a target for the large scale fisheries.
    In Costa Rica last month, I had amazing yellowfin tuna in a cochina (kitchen restaurant) that had been caught that day by the brother of the lady who ran the restaurant (he runs a small sport fishing / commerical fishing operation). She made it up into sushi, and then served the main course as tuna steaks – still pink. Amazing!
    Don't ask me for directions – it's in my interest – and those of the Ticos – if I keep that quiet!

    • Bluefun tuna is much much more expensive then the tuna you would buy at your supermarket..

  4. We're talking about the big blue-fin tuna. At the dockside the Japanese pay upwards of $10K for one
    fish, depending on quality. I doubt if we ever have or ever will see it on supermarket shelves. Unless
    it's on Rodeo Drive or on sushi night at the Petroleum Club.

    • Actually tuna is huge. 10K isn't usual either. And the price of blue fin tuna for regular pieces isn't that expensive in Japan. I often think they should have them for sale in Canadian supermarkets I would buy. Why should 80% of consumption be in Japan? You know the price of sushi in Canada is like 3x the price of what it is in many kaitensushi restaurants in Japan plus in Canada often they use fish that. Sushi often sells for about $1.50 for two pieces at most places for blue fin tuna.

  5. This is so embarrassing for Canada. Harper is such an environmental vandal. His name will be vilified for ages to come. The great irony is that tuna, an apex predator, is quite contaminated as a food source, filled with heavy metals and toxins. It is recommended to be eaten no more than once a month. But hey, if we sell it to the Japanese we can but their products to fuel our materialistic cravings. For my part I boycott Japanese products for their exploitative practices, whaling being one of them.

    • Did you even read the article?

    • i read the article.
      the species is going extinct. no ban = no tuna for ANYONE once it's extinct.

  6. Hug that tree, Mike.

  7. japanese fleets follow the blue fin tuna year round across the ocean.
    They would arrive here in St. John's NL each fall….aprox 60 vessels…..load up on supplies and chase again…..no species can sustain that. I hear the fleet was almost 90 vessels……now where are all the tuna. Sick!

  8. Mike!!! Why is Canada having 1% of the quota and sticking to it supposed to be embarrassed by this?!? idiot…

  9. Japan has repeatedly suggested that EU countries reduce their quota like 50%. It was EU that said "no," since it's lucrative. Anyway, Japan should reduce the amout of tuna import to a quarter and put more effort on farming the bluefin tuna. After all, Japan is the only country that has succeeded in farming the bluefin tuna from eggs.

    • japan is also responsible for most of the overfishing of the bluefin tuna… the eastern stocks are better off then the western stocks which are being overfished by the US and Japan…

  10. I'm not sure where you get that we aren't on the wrong side in this debate, Mr. Geddes. Here you have a scientist you appear to respect telling you that the fish stock has been reduced 15% and even though the fishing practices have been changed, they haven't bounced back.

    I'm no environmentalist, but it seems to me that if the fish are having a hard time returning to proper numbers, more needs to be done to help them.

    But what I really don't get is, in this multicultural land where everybody is from everywhere, why don't we have a domestic market? Why not cut our well managed harvesting of these fish in half and use that half to develop a domestic market? Hopefully, if the importing ban is in place, our fish will have a viable chance to recover–just in time to provide for the demand in our newly-created market.

  11. If we are only fishing 1% of the population, then it shouldn't be such a big a deal if we stop. "Fair" has nothing to do with it; the ban is a sacrifice we must be willing to make until they recover. We Canadians helped permanently decimate the Atlantic cod stocks (it still shows no sign of coming back), we are destroying our Pacific Salmon stocks, our rockfish levels are crashing, etc. Our fisheries management record is very poor. If a population is missing 80-90% of its numbers, it is blatently obvious it needs to be allowed to recover!

    • "Canada's quota has traditionally been less than one per cent of the Atlantic and Mediterranean quota."
      1% of quota… not the population.

      • His point stands. We can play the "take all we can get before it's gone" approach, as we did with cod and we certainly seem to be doing with salmon, or we can support restrictions and bans that could actually salvage this species for future fishers.

  12. "possibly because the fish are moving north because of warmer temperatures as the climate changes"

    What an idiotic comment. Even if you concede there has been warming, which is debatable these days given the fraud going on in climate science, the temperature change is claimed to be 0.2 degrees Celsius per decade. Average temperature changes about 1 degree with every 145 km northwards.

    So any global warming over the last 30 years would be negated by moving a measly 90 km to the north. The United States spans 2400 km from south to north. We're talking 3%!

    Can scientists even do math these days?

  13. "possibly because the fish are moving north because of warmer temperatures as the climate changes"

    What an idiotic comment. Even if you concede there has been warming, which is debatable these days given the fraud going on in climate science, the temperature change is claimed to be 0.2 degrees Celsius per decade. Average temperature changes about 1 degree with every 145 km northwards.

    So any global warming over the last 30 years would be negated by moving a measly 90 km to the north. The United States spans 2400 km from south to north. We're talking 3%!

    Can scientists even do math these days?

    • Im not saying the the whole apocolyptic version of global warming is happening but it is definately getting warmer here in Ontario. 10 years ago it was snow from november to april, now the odds of a snow-day are laughable. Just the other day the temperature was over 3 times higher the average (average of 6C and we had around 20c) and I am not 100% but I am pretty sure that a lot of our migratory birds are staying-the geese have stayed with us pretty much all winter. All could really just be a climate fluke but for people around here it is hard to dismiss the possibility considering our winters have drastically been becoming shorter, warmer and much much more dry

      • You're wrong. Global temperatures have risen by only 0.2 degrees or so in the last 30 years, and there has been no warming for over a decade. The same is true in Ontario. Don't buy into all the lies. Even climate scientists are beginning to admit this (I know, you'd think they'd have been honest before this, but that's climate science for you).

        http://www.drroyspencer.com/wp-content/uploads/UA

        • Except that's completely false.

          http://www.huffingtonpost.com/wires/2009/10/26/ap

          Take your measurements from 1997 and there's warming.
          Take them from 1999 and there's warming.
          Take them from 1998, an outlier year, and it's basically level.

          • You've proven my point. Statistically speaking, there has been no warming. Just because you can arbitrarily choose years in order to get a 0.4 degree rise, and you can arbitrarily choose years to get a 0.4 degree drop, that means nothing. However, if you use statistical methods, meaning you do not choose any arbitrary year and you determine if there is anything beyond random variation, the answer is that there is none.

            http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1250872/C

            Yet despite this, and despite the fact you cannot manufacture a rise beyond 0.6 years not matter how dishonest you may be with the numbers, like I said, all you need to do is drive 30 minutes northwards and you've negated any 0.6 degree change.

          • Expanding on that point for the mathematically and geographically illiterate, if you want to cherry-pick your data to convince yourself that there has been a rise in temperates since 1995 of 0.6 degrees, and you live in downtown Toronto let's say, and you want to negate that 0.6 degree rise, then all you need to do is move 70 km norhtwards to Newmarket in the Toronto suburbs.

            Not only that, you will more than compensate for the difference when you consider the additional effects of the urban heat island effect.

          • One other thing, I find it logically perplexing that you would try to negate my claim that there has been warming in temperatures for over a decade with an article that claims there has been no cooling.

          • Try reading the whole article.

    • s_c_f.
      You realize the fisheries scientist was talking about the ocean temperature in the Grand Banks area right?
      Scientists do make a distinction between water and air……
      Also between regional climate and global warming.
      Stokesbury was talking about how the water temperatures in the past few decades has increased significantly…..and made absolutely no reference to global warming.

      Your critiicsms would be more useful if you you bothered to think about the fact that fish, and fishery scientists, focus on water temperature in specific regions…..not global temperature.

      But thnaks for providing the laughs…'scientists can't do math' is pretty laughable from someone who can't figure out fish live in water, not air!

      • Sorry Kyle, but clearly you have absolutely no idea where American bluefin fishing takes place – it's not in the Grand Banks. He was talking about American fishing – learn to read.

        Water temperatures have not increased significantly, you Stokesbury friend is just another liar.

        http://www.columbia.edu/~mhs119/Storms/Storms_Fig

        In fact, you can see that land water temperatures have not fluctuated as much as land, which is to be expected if you know anything about the specific heat capacity of water and the effect of water on climate.

        Is there anything you're ont wrong about? Go to school if you want to pretend you're an expert.

        • Go to school if you want to pretend you're an expert

          The lack of self-awareness is truly stunning, isn't it?

          • Ad hominem attacks are the sign of someone who cannot challenge the facts. While responding to Kyle I showed him where he was wrong. You, on the other hand, are a waste of time because you add nothing to refute my claims of fact.

          • And you also made an ad-hominem by claiming, without evidence, that Kyle was uneducated.

            Truly stunning.

    • "Even if you concede there has been warming, which is debatable these days given the fraud going on in climate science,?

      What a stupid comment. You're a moron.

      Stop stinking up these discussions with your churlishness. You embarrass…the nation.

      • Climate science is riddled by fraud.

        From using activist papers instead of peer-reviewed science in the IPCC reports, from the IPCC making up unsubstantiated claims about sea levels, glaciers melting in the Himalayas, droughts in Africa and rainfall in the rain forest, from the manipulation of the historical temperature record to publish manipulated results, the list goes on.

        http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703
        http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704
        http://www.copenhagenclimatechallenge.org/

        Feel free to continue sticking your head in the sand.

        • I bet you can't even understand what's in those links.

          Moron.

          • I'm coming to understand that you must be a child.

        • You don't need to throw a bunch of links around. If you you speak to people who spend a lot of time on the water, such as fisherman, you can't fail to conclude that things are changing ; species moving in that aren't regularly in our waters, salmon in trouble. I spend alot of time on the coast and on the water and the anecdotal evidence is there.

          • LOL Those things have nothing to do with climate, they have everything to do with overfishing, pollution, natural variation, and numerous other things. Obviously (you'd think this was obvious to human beings anyway), if the temperatures have not changed, you can't claim it's caused by temperature changes.

          • I present you with ancedotal evidence that i personally have heard and your resonse is it has to be something else – are you a fisherman as well as a climate expert? I didn't claim it proved anything beyond an obsevable fact in an area i live in. Then you link me to polar bears, we were talking fish right. I thought you'd at least link me to stories of how the ocean environment is not changing .Anyhow i get the inference. But you're wrong. The innuit aren't denying the north is changing, just that the GW crowd are wrong about bear numbers. I think they're probably right, they have been in the past up here[ i live up north over the winter] in arguements with scientists over caribou numbers.

          • http://www.iisd.org/climate/vulnerability/inuit.a

            These kind of stories are common up north. This one was sponsered in part by the federal and nwt gov'ts. Not a proof of AGW. But nevertheless compelling evidence of something going on.

          • Anecdotal evidence is mostly worthless. And you cannot claim to speak for the Inuit, like any other group of people there are individuals on both sides of the AGW debate.

          • Anecdotal evidence might be worthless if that's all it was,but anecdotal evidence is often backed by scientific evidence – just that's evidence you don't like. I get that you're argung there has been no warming, but there are plenty of scientists who say there is warming. I'm not speaking for the Innuit.[ odd how you thought their anecdotal evidence re: polar bears was legit?] But just take a look through Isuma – it's fascinating. Link me to a similar Innuit endorsed site that rejects CC, i doubt if you can find one. I believe it's pretty much a consenus that observable CC is occurring.

          • "odd how you thought their anecdotal evidence re: polar bears was legit?"

            I don't. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. It was just an example of anecdotal evidence arguing the opposite position.

          • The consensus referred to CC as an observable occurence among most innuit groups, at least the ones i'm aware of. I'm still waiting for you to come through on your assertion that like all groups of people there are individuals on both sides of the arguemtent. i've yet to come across any out spoken critics among the Innuit of the the view that the Arctic climate is changing – and it's not getting colder.

  14. Like really, we have screwed up the ecosystems so much that we might as well try something new or risk losing everything. My suggestion is to flood the oceans with fishy viagara, hault fishing operations for a small period (a year or two) and than just cast buckets over the boat and get a bucket of fish (as the first European fishers noted in Newfoundland). I dont eat fish so I dont really care but its not fare that we know a species is dying, gone off the planet forever, and we sit around spending good money discussing the situation with no real action and no intention for a productive plan. So as I said, fishy viagara, than the fish come back in swarms to the point that we have to fish them or risk over-population

  15. As President of the Wise Colin's Fish Hall of Fame and (as a fish myself) I would like to extend my deepest sympathy to all Blue Fin Tuna. Unfortunately dear tuna, these homo sapiens types just don't get it. They're just stomachs on legs. Sure, they have a brain but not enough omega 3 to power it. That's why they keep eating fish. And they will keep eating us until there is nothing left.
    http://wisecolin.wordpress.com/wise-colins-fish-h

    • …indeed…

  16. hi wisecolin!
    nice to se e you beeing the elected PRESIDENT of all fish (LIKE MYSELF)good to see your brain works just fine(looks like you know how to keep omega 3 for your own use.screw them homo sapiens!)promise i won't bite on anything till the next election date

    • Hi. Your post is very good and my familly like your writing style. I think you can go to my blog and? and i dont how to RECIVE. Great 4 you!

  17. Yes, I did. But that was in response to his numerous false statements, so either he is not educating himself or he is lying.
    -he made the obviously false claim that this has something to do with the grand banks
    -he made the obviously false claim that sea surface or deep sea temperatures are showing temperature increases that exceed the lower troposphere variations or land-based readings
    -he made the obvious false temperature that the discussion of the american bluefish tuna fishery was localized to a specific area
    -and then he tried to give himself an air of superiority and expertise by claiming he had a laugh.

    Meanwhile, you've said nothing of interest. At least Kyle is trying to make an argument.

    • So then, am I right in assuming that (unlike Kyle and I) you are went to school to become an expert in climate science, oceanography and the tuna fishery? If so, I'm amazed you have time to post so voluminously here.

      • When exactly will you attempt to make an actual point? Still nothing.

        • "Don't worry, despite my posts, I find plenty of time to do other things."

          Like what?

  18. Again, it seems that we indulge in selfish reasons to undermine a ban that would assist others and the migratory population as a whole (which is destined to collapse in the next few years). Also, it can be argued that it is the largest individuals that should be allowed to propagate. As with many of our responses to global issues, Canadians continue to congratulate themselves while accomplishing nothing.

  19. Aren't wind patterns part of cilmate too? In any case i'm not necessarily arguing for AWG. I do find it midly amusing that critics of CC scientists like yourself are also using their own studies or corrections in their observations to hit them over the head with how dishonest they all are.

    • It depends on how those corrections came about. If a scientist made a correction voluntarily, and is generally honest and transparent with his/her research, then I'm not gonna hit him over the head. There's no reason for that.

      The climategate emails show something completely different, that scientists were manipulating data intentionally, publishing misleading results intentionally, trying to avoid any criticism and peer review, and doing everything in their power to avoid admitting anything was not right.

      For instance, the hockey stick graph is pure fraud, plain and simple. It's completely wrong (intentionally) and yet it's still being propagated today because of the efforts of scientists to conceal their methods and conceal their data from review.

  20. Canada has adopted the Precautionary Approach to fisheries management outlined in the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement which means that when a stock has become depleted as much as the western bluefin tuna stock, we should stop fishing. A fishery on a collapsed stock cannot be considered sustainable. We are in fact mismanaging the Canadian bluefin tuna fishery, no matter how well the quota is regulated. Western bluefin tuna is currently being considered under Canada's species at risk legislation (SARA) by COSEWIC which also implies a population under threat of extinction. It is time to stop fishing western bluefin tuna to give it a chance to recover.

  21. The ban on TUNA fish is totally stupid

  22. I strongly believe that bluefin tune is an iconic species: big, fast, wide-ranging, dangerously depleted. And it is incredibly valuable for Sushi. But I strongly opposed the export of bluefin tuna and the only thing i can do for bluefin tuna is my sympathy to them.

  23. You can't ban tuna? What are you talking about. We've been eating tuna for since when I can remember.

  24. The highest demand for tuna is from the Japanese. Since Japan has been so successful at bribing their way around tuna fishing bans this year, it may as well be the year tunas started going extinct. I don't like Japanese fishermen, at all. It's a shame the Sea Sheperd can't use RPGs.

    If the Japanese demand for tuna would not be so high the Italians and Lybians mentioned in this article would not poach them.

  25. quite number of folks eating tuna well, if they ban it they must be disappointment a lot.

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  27. Mike!!! Why is Canada having 1% of the quota and sticking to it supposed to be embarrassed by this?!?

  28. I hope Canada realizes that this is serious. You can not turn a blind eye to it. We must act! Stella from mahjong association.

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  29. If the species is endangered, we need to practice responsible fishing in order to ensure they remain.

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  33. "I'm no environmentalist, but it seems to me that if the fish are having a hard time returning to proper numbers, more needs to be done to help them." It's true !

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  40. tuna is cheap and tasty, tuna shouldn't be banned.
    even japan should also increase its exports.

  41. This is very interesting interview :) I like it very much and i would read more things of this type ;)

  42. Now this is really bad. Canada should show some respect to United Nations at least being a member of it.

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  44. mike!!! we know that if we not stop globle warning imediatly then after 30 year we are unable to save life on the earth then why we work slowly ??????????????

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  49. 1 degree with every 145 km northwards.

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