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Blue fin tuna jumping to catch flying fishes. bbevren / iStock / Getty Images Plus

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.

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Nigel Marple / Greenpeace

By Amy McDermott

Canned tuna is a staple in my pantry, and probably in yours. Americans and Europeans buy more of the squat little cans than anyone else, importing almost a million tons in 2018. Supermarkets carry at least 20 brands.

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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Greenpeace / Roger Grace

By Rachel Hopkins

Tropical tuna species—skipjack, bigeye and yellowfin tunas—are important economic assets for coastal communities across the globe, and even far from the ocean they are a favorite on supermarket shelves and in sushi bars. These three species—together worth close to $40 billion annually at the final point of sale—prompted eight Pacific island countries to launch World Tuna Day on May 2, 2011. In 2016, the UN officially adopted the date to highlight the importance of sustainable tuna management.

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Poke, a dish made from raw tuna, is enjoying huge popularity far beyond its native Hawaii. But where is all that fish coming from? It turns out that tracking down the source of that tasty yellowfin or bigeye can be a hard task—and that raises some major sustainability concerns.

Manfred Bortoli

By Amanda Nickson

The Pacific bluefin tuna is among the most depleted species on the planet, having been fished down more than 97 percent from its historic, unfished size. For years, this prized fish has been in dire need of strong policies that would reverse that decline, but the two organizations responsible for its management—the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC)—failed in their recent efforts, allowing overfishing to continue and further risking the future of the species.

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Taro Taylor/Flickr

The next time you go out for seafood, you might want to ask where the tuna was caught.

According to new research from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego, the levels of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in the muscle tissue of yellowfin tuna caught in the more industrialized areas of the northeast Pacific Ocean and northeast Atlantic Ocean can be as much as 36 times higher than in tuna caught in pristine waters of the West Pacific Ocean.

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Buyers look through frozen tuna on sale at the fish market in Tokyo's Tsukiji district. Rob Gihooly

The Trump administration rejected a petition Monday to protect imperiled Pacific bluefin tuna under the Endangered Species Act. This powerful apex predator, which commands top prices at fish auctions in Japan, has been overfished to less than 3 percent of its historic population. Although the National Marine Fisheries Service announced in October 2016 that it was considering listing the Pacific bluefin, it has now concluded that protections aren't warranted.

"If the paychecks of fishery managers and federal officials were tied to the status of this marvelous creature, they would have done the right thing," said Carl Safina, president of the Safina Center and a scientist and author who has worked to draw public attention to the plight of the bluefin tuna.

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Greenpeace

It took two years of relentless campaigning and nearly 700,000 concerned people from around the world, but today we are sharing the good news that together we convinced the world's largest tuna company to clean up its act!

Tuna giant Thai Union, which owns brands such as John West, Chicken of the Sea, Petit Navire, Mareblu and Sealect, has committed to a series of changes to its business that will help to protect seafood workers, reduce destructive fishing practices and increase support for more sustainable fishing. This marks a major shift for the corporation, and sends a signal to the entire fishing industry to do better for the oceans and seafood industry workers.

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Greenpeace Canada has released the fourth edition of its Canned Tuna Sustainability Ranking, revealing that despite the number of responsibly-caught tuna products quadrupling in Canada since Greenpeace's first ranking in 2011, shoppers seeking better options still struggle in some major grocery chains because unsustainable brands dominate shelf space.

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Chris Weeks

By Graham Forbes

The Justice Department announced Monday that Bumble Bee has agreed to plead guilty to one count of fixing the prices of canned tuna sold in the U.S. and pay a $25 million criminal fine.

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I couldn't, post-election, muster a plausibly big enough piece of good news to warrant a Thanksgiving blog—but then this morning one arrived. In an astonishingly short eight years, as a result of tougher emission rules on power plants and a declining use of coal, concentrations of mercury in Atlantic Bluefin tuna, the sushi sort, dropped by 19 percent.

There are similar findings for bluefish, but tuna are much longer lived, so the results are extremely surprising—concentrations of mercury in even much older tuna fell at the same or faster rate as mercury concentrations in sea water, suggesting that fisheries contamination can be reversed far more quickly than anyone had dreamed.

Bluefin tuna are still not healthy for women of child-bearing age—and most of the tuna which had led more than 10 percent of U.S. women having unhealthy mercury in their blood is not from the Atlantic ocean, which is healing, but from the Pacific, where coal consumption and mercury loading remains unabated.

Mercury contamination is a serious public health issue. In the U.S. alone, hundreds of thousands of newborns are at risk of lower IQ's from the mercury burden they are born with. Concentrations of mercury have been coming down as a result of broad public education and advisories on which fish to avoid. Overall, mercury emissions in the U.S. have declined sharply as a result of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulation.

Now the news from the North Atlantic suggests that globally the epidemic of mercury poisoning can be reversed far more rapidly than scientists had imagined. Requiring the clean up of coal power plant emissions in Asia, the globe's largest remaining source of mercury pollution, will begin to allow Pacific ocean fisheries to recover as well. It's important that countries considering the economics of building coal factor in the almost certain necessity to control for mercury—and when they do, they are likely to find that coal power is no longer economically competitive, so that not only will current plants reduce their emissions, but fewer new ones will make any kind of economic sense—which will be wonderful news for the communities where coal is mined and burned, as well as the climate.

More fundamentally, the North Atlantic story goes at the heart of the popular version of climate denialism—which is the initially plausible notion that the world is so large and each human so small, that it's just not likely that anything each of us does can really change the climate—or poison the oceans. And if we have, it's so terrifying that we really don't believe we can do anything about it. Isn't it too late?

What the declining mercury level in Bluefin tuna shows is that we can—and have—had enormous impacts on the natural world, but that we can, and are, reversing those impacts. Nature, if we stop abusing her, can heal herself not in centuries or even decades, but mere years—even the length of the U.S. president's term.

This is a good news story we need to tell everyone.

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