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Tuna Collapse Making Waves

Overfishing, competition from fish farms, water pollution, and government subsidies to fishermen have brought bluefin tuna stocks to near collapse.

Disappearing stocks of bluefin tuna led Japan to cut its catch of the fish by 23 percent by 2010.

The issue led to finger-pointing by the United States and the European Union, each of which regards the other as the culprit. But it is the Japanese, consumers of the most bluefin tuna in the world, who will bear the consequences.

Cutbacks on the international tuna quota, down to 29,500 tons in 2007 from thirty-two thousand tons last year, mean the popular sushi ingredient could become more scarce and expensive.

Although aquaculture (fish farming) can help take pressure off wild fisheries and provide needed income to coastal communities, it also causes pollution, attracts parasites, and competes for resources with wild fish. Nearly half of all fish eaten globally comes from fish farming, according to a recent report by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. The FAO says demand for fish, especially by developing nations, continues to climb at a time when commercial output from wild fisheries seems to have “reached a ceiling.” Noting projections of a global shortfall of forty million tons of seafood by 2030, it says the United States hopes to dramatically increase fish farming off US coasts.

With ocean biodiversity diminishing, the United Nations recently met to discuss management of exploitation of the world’s marine resources under the Law of the Sea Treaty. Some countries called for a new legal framework for “bioprospecting,” which could put already taxed marine environments at further risk. Other nations maintained that the accord guaranteed the right of all nations to conduct research on marine resources, including bioprospecting and exploitation. This Backgrounder discusses the role of the treaty in managing fisheries and ocean resources.

Source: Council of Foreign Relations

the Fish Site Editor

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