As it bursts through the water at 40 mph, gleaming blue and yellow scales flash on the body of the Atlantic bluefin tuna. Ten feet long and 500 pounds heavy, this monstrous fish could live for half a century - if it hadn't been caught by a longliner's hook, linked to a 20-mile long fishing line. Before it bit into that hook, urged on by ancient instincts, the bluefin had been swimming back to its birthplace in the Gulf of Mexico to spawn and create the next generation of these magnificent ocean dwellers.
Photo of a bluefin tuna caught on a long line. Photo Credit: Pew Charitable Trusts
Although just a third of their historic population remains, it's legal to catch bluefin in American waters. While the direct catch is a problem, the greater challenge is the 245,000 pounds of bluefin - thousands of fish - that die each year on long lines in the US Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean after being caught unintentionally by fisherman going after other types of tuna or swordfish. Called "bycatch," these fish are discarded and simply thrown back to the sea.
The National Marine Fisheries Service has proposed regulations to reduce bycatch by setting limits on the amount that is allowed. Once a fishing vessel has reached its individual cap, it will no longer be allowed to fish for other types of tuna with long lines - unless it can guarantee it won't also kill bluefin.
It's not enough protection, but it's a start. Unfortunately, members of the fishing community are fighting back, saying that any change in regulations is too much and that bluefin should be left to hang on their lines.
We need your help - tell NMFS to "hold the line" to help rebuild bluefin, and ensure the protection of this amazing fish!
Photo of frozen bluefin tuna from around the world at the Tokyo fish auction. Photo Credit: Pew Charitable Trusts
Species like bluefin need places to swim and breed where they are free of fishing pressure. Not only will this proposed regulation decrease bluefin bycatch, but it will also create a seasonal Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the Gulf of Mexico, protecting bluefin at their most crucial spawning times.
At Marine Conservation Institute, we believe that MPAs are an essential tool in conserving biodiversity, protecting vulnerable species, and safeguarding the ocean's treasures for us and future generations. MPAs provide crucial resilience in ocean ecosystems, insulating against the negative effects of ocean warming, acidification, and overfishing.
Our work identifying key areas and advocating for their protection supports the National Marine Fisheries Service and encourages them to be bold in their efforts to make fishing sustainable. Currently, our "Gulf Gems" project team is working to make sure that the Gulf of Mexico's most crucial ecosystems are protected; from deep water corals to lush seagrass beds and open ocean areas used by sharks and, yes, bluefin tuna.
But we can't do it without you. Please, make your voice heard in demanding that we choose conservation over exploitation, and protect one of the most magnificent ocean creatures - for now, and for the future.