Western Atlantic bluefin tuna are in danger of extinction, and a new proposal by the National Marine Fisheries Service threatens to speed their trip over the brink. Often viewed merely as the makings of a sushi roll, the bluefin tuna is a remarkable specimen of ocean wildlife. Bluefin tuna are top predators that have been observed to hunt cooperatively, much like wolves. This piscine powerhouse bolts through the water at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour, thanks to retractable fins, warm-blooded bodies, and a streamlined design that rivals any manmade ocean craft. Every year, adult bluefin tuna, weighing three-quarters of a ton and reaching 10 feet in length, travel through thousands of miles of open ocean to spawn in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Gulf of Mexico is the only known spawning area for bluefin tuna in the western Atlantic. And it is here that the Fisheries Service's proposal would facilitate their demise. Despite the fact that western Atlantic bluefin is in danger of becoming extinct within 10 years, the Service is proposing to allow commercial fishermen to kill more bluefin tuna in the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately, bluefin will not be the only victims of the Fisheries Service's bad idea.
Fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico use pelagic longline gear — dozens of miles of line with hundreds of baited hooks dangling from it — to catch swordfish and yellowfin tuna, and "incidentally" catch bluefin tuna. The same gear also snags and kills other overfished species like marlin and sharks, as well as threatened and endangered sea turtles. Like western Atlantic bluefin tuna, the loggerhead sea turtle has experienced dramatic declines and is at risk of extinction. Instead of increasing pressure on imperiled bluefin tuna, marlin, sharks, and sea turtles, the Fisheries Service should be eliminating this wasteful gear altogether from the Gulf of Mexico.