Bluefin tunas are extreme athletes with fins. Warm-blooded fishes capable of growing to 1,500 pounds they sprint at highway speeds through seawater 800 times denser than air, coring through oceans on multi-year, multi-thousand-mile migrations between spawning and feeding areas. At least three bluefin species inhabit the North Atlantic and Mediterranean, the Pacific, and the South Pacific and Indian Ocean. All are amazing, and all are relentlessly pursued by fishermen for their money value as the pinnacle of sashimi and sushi.
The Pacific bluefin has recently been assessed as having declined about 96 percent in the last half-century due to intensive fishing. An endangered species petition has been submitted for them. A South Atlantic population appears to have been wiped out by intense fishing in the 1960s. Atlantic bluefin tuna have in recent decades been proposed for a trade ban under the Convention on international Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and assessed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
So the other thing bluefin tuna are is: vulnerable. And mismanaged. And contentious. Very.
Contentious is what a new study of Atlantic bluefin breeding has become. Of the study’s ten authors (Richardson et al.), eight work for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and yet extraordinarily — unprecedentedly, I think — several of their own NOAA colleagues have just published a critique saying that the Richardson team “makes several broad assertions that go beyond what the data support.” Further, they point out, the data support “exactly the opposite conclusion” from the one purveyed by Richardson et al. Amazing to see a rift inside a federal agency spill so publicly onto the pages of a journal like that!