EcoWatch Exclusive: Ocean Conservation Expert Carl Safina on the Tuna That Sold for $3 Million
Bluefin tuna made the news this week when a 612-pound specimen of the fascinating but vulnerable fish sold for a record $3.1 million at a New Year's auction at Tokyo's Toyosu fish market Saturday. The purchaser was Japanese sushi chain owner and self-proclaimed "Tuna King" Kiyoshi Kimura.
"The tuna looks so tasty because it's fat and (looks) very fresh. It is a good tuna. But I think I did too much," Kimura said, as CNN reported.
But what do auctions like this mean for a fish whose Pacific population has declined by 96 percent over the last 400 years, as Al-Jazeera English reported in the clip shown below?
🇯🇵 Japan's sushi king pays record price for bluefin tuna l Al Jazeera English youtu.be
EcoWatch spoke with renowned conservationist and writer Carl Safina to find out.
"The prices accorded these fish in Japan have long been insane," Safina told EcoWatch in an email. "The fish become an ego contest for wealthy restaurateurs one-upping each other to display their wealth. The higher the price, the more they devalue the actual fish as the magnificent wild creature that it is."
Safina explained what made bluefin tuna so incredible.
"Bluefin tunas, largest and most wide-ranging of all tunas, are several species of warm-blooded, ocean-crossing giants that can travel at highway speeds and can weigh almost a ton," he wrote.
However, the fish are in serious trouble throughout the world's oceans. In addition to their depletion in the North Pacific, they have been apparently wiped out in the South Atlantic due to overfishing. In the North Atlantic, they are at around 18 percent of their 1950 numbers, according to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna.
But the valuable bluefin are one of the world's most exploited fish, and their desirability has consequences. Catch quotas were raised by 50 percent for 2017 to 2020, according to ScienceAdvances, after management practices helped increased the population in the Atlantic ocean.
"They are completely awesome creatures," Safina told EcoWatch. "If it was up to me, they would never be fished commercially or sold and they would be allowed to return to their former abundance and their role in nature."
Safina is familiar with the tensions surrounding this fish. He was featured in the film Bluefin by John Hopkins, which looks at the bluefin fishing industry in North Lake, Canada, where a surprising resurgence of bluefin tuna left fishermen and scientists scrambling for answers.
"The intense and acrimonious debate among Canadian fishermen whose catches get flown to Tokyo for the daily auction is a microcosm of the intensity and passion in the inflamed pursuit of bluefin tuna through the oceans of the world," Safina told EcoWatch.
Safina has a Ph.D. in ecology. He worked in ocean conservation for many years, leading campaigns to ban driftnets, rewrite U.S. fisheries law, pass a UN global fisheries treaty and conserve sharks, tuna and other fish. He now focuses on writing and runs the Safina Center, which works to produce both scientific and creative projects advocating conservation. He is the inaugural holder of the Endowed Research Chair for Nature and Humanity at Stony Brook University.
Trump Administration Denies Pacific Bluefin Tuna Endangered Species Act Protection https://t.co/G0O9cqw1Oy @Seasaver @NOAAFisheries— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1502229912.0
Correction: This article has been updated to provide greater clarity regarding the increase in catch quotas.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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