Increased protection urgently needed for tunas

7/7/2011

Global Assessment Warns of "Serious" Situation For World's Wild Tuna Stocks; 5 of 8 Species Now Threatened or Near Threatened with Extinction

Gland, Switzerland / Washington DC, U.S. — For the first time, all species of scombrids (tunas, bonitos, mackerels and Spanish mackerels) and billfishes (swordfish and marlins) have been assessed for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™. Of the 61 known species, seven are classified in a threatened category, being at serious risk of extinction. Four species are listed as Near Threatened and nearly two-thirds have been placed in the Least Concern category.

The results show that the situation is particularly serious for tunas. Five of the eight species of tuna are in the threatened or Near Threatened IUCN Red List Categories. These include: Southern Bluefin (Thunnus maccoyii), Critically Endangered; Atlantic Bluefin (T. thynnus), Endangered; Bigeye (T. obesus), Vulnerable; Yellowfin (T. albacares), Near Threatened; and Albacore (T. alalunga), Near Threatened. 

This new information will be invaluable in helping governments make decisions which will safeguard the future of these species, many of which are of extremely high economic value, and is a timely input for the 3rd Joint Meeting of the Tuna Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RMFO) being held in La Jolla, California, July 11-15.

These assessments are a part of the Global Marine Species Assessment (GMSA) project, a joint initiative of IUCN and Conservation International. Since its inception in 2005, the GMSA mission has been to provide more than 20,000 marine species assessments for inclusion on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

“This is the first time that fishery scientists, ichthyologists and conservationists have come together to jointly produce an assessment of the threats facing a commercially important group of fishes,” says Dr Bruce B. Collette, Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s (SSC) Tuna and Billfish Specialist Group, Senior Scientist of the U.S National Marine Fisheries Service, and lead author of the paper.

There is growing concern that in spite of the healthy status of several epipelagic fish stocks (those living near the surface), some scombrid and billfish species are being heavily overfished, and there is a lack of resolve to protect against overexploitation driven by high prices. Many populations are exploited by multinational fisheries whose regulation, from a political perspective, is exceedingly difficult.

“All three bluefin tuna species are susceptible to collapse under continued excessive fishing pressure.  The Southern Bluefin has already essentially crashed, with little hope of recovery,” says Dr Kent Carpenter, Professor at Old Dominion University, manager of IUCN’s Marine Biodiversity Unit and an author of the paper. “If no changes are made to current fishing practices, the western Atlantic Bluefin stocks are at risk of collapse as they are showing little sign that the population is rebuilding following a significant reduction in the 1970s.”

Three species of billfishes are in threatened or Near Threatened categories: Blue Marlin (Makaira nigricans), Vulnerable; White Marlin (Kajikia albida), Vulnerable; and Striped Marlin (Kajikia audax), Near Threatened.

Most of the long-lived economically valuable species are considered threatened. They mature later than short-lived species and their reproductive turnover is longer, and as such recovery from population declines takes more time. As these scombrids and billfishes are at the top of the pelagic food web, population reductions of these predators may cause significant negative effects on other species that are critical to the balance of the marine ecosystem and that are economically important as a source of food.

The future of threatened scombrids and billfishes rests on the ability of RFMOs and fishing nations to properly manage these species. Southern and Atlantic Bluefin populations have been so reduced that the most efficient way to avoid collapse is to shut down the fisheries until stocks are rebuilt to healthy levels. However, this would cause substantial economic hardship and hinder the ability of RFMOs to control fishing because of the increased incentive for illegal fishing that would be created under these circumstances.

“Temporarily shutting down tuna fisheries would only be a part of a much needed recovery programme. In order to prevent illegal fishing, strong deterrents need to be implemented,” says Jean-Christophe Vié, Deputy Director, IUCN’s Global Species Programme. “This new study shows that there is an urgent need for effective management. Scientific findings should not be discarded in order to maintain short-term profit. Marine life and jobs for future generations are both at stake.”

"This study is a wake-up call for the international organizations responsible for the management of tuna stocks", said Dr. Andrew Rosenberg Chief Scientist for Conservation International. "The fact that several stocks of high value species like bluefin tuna have become threatened or are now in danger of extinction while under international management means that we must do a better job of protecting our ocean resources."

The recovery of fish stocks is possible through reducing fishing-induced mortality rates to well below the maximum sustainable yield (MSY), as shown in the case of the highly valued eastern population of the Atlantic Bluefin. Recently exploited at three times the MSY, a decrease in the total allowable catch and stricter monitoring and compliance measures have led to recent catch reductions of almost 75% over the past few years. This will enable the species to recover to sustainable levels as long as the current fishing controls are maintained.

Notes to editors
Copies of the Science paper “High Value and Long-Lived: Double Jeopardy for Tuna and Billfishes” may be obtained from the AAAS Office of Public Programs.
Please contact  +1-202-326-6440 or scipack@aaas.org

For further information, please contact:

Kevin Connor, Media Manager, CI, +1 703 341 2405 

Lynne Labanne, Species Programme Communications Officer, IUCN, t +41 22 999 0153, 
m +41 79 527 7221,  e  lynne.labanne@iucn.org

Kathryn Pintus, Species Programme Communications, IUCN, t +41 22 999 0154,
e kathryn.pintus@iucn.org

For high resolution photos please contact: lynne.labanne@iucn.org or Kathryn.pintus@iucn.org

The tuna and billfish assessments
The tuna and billfish assessments are a part of the Global Marine Species Assessment’s mission to complete more than 20,000 marine species assessments for inclusion on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The Global Marine Species Assessment Unit (GMSA), or Marine Biodiversity Unit, is a joint initiative of IUCN and Conservation International. The GMSA is headquartered in the Department of Biology at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, and is largely enabled by the generous support of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and Tom Haas.

To complete the tuna and billfish IUCN Red List assessments, the GMSA collaborated with a wide diversity of international scientists who represent Fisheries Management Organizations, international conservation organizations; government agencies, universities, and independent fisheries research institutions. IUCN Red List Workshops and finalization of results for tunas and billfishes were made possible by the generous support of Tom Haas and the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, Conservation International, Lenfest Ocean Program, International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, International Game Fish Association, Instituto Chico Mendes de Conservação da Biodiversidade, Academia Sinica, Taiwan Marine National Park Headquarters, Instituto del Mar del Perú, and CIMAR- University of Costa Rica.

Complete results of the tuna and billfish species assessments will be published on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species in November 2011. As of July 7, 2011, draft assessments can be found at: http://sci.odu.edu/gmsa/about/tunas_billfishes.shtml

The IUCN Red List threat categories
The IUCN Red List threat categories are as follows:

  • Extinct or Extinct in the Wild
  • Critically Endangered, Endangered and Vulnerable: species threatened with global extinction
    Near Threatened: species close to the threatened thresholds or that would be threatened without ongoing specific conservation measures
  • Least Concern: species evaluated with a lower risk of extinction
  • Data Deficient: no assessment because of insufficient data
  • Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct): this is not a new IUCN Red List Category, but is a flag developed to identify those Critically Endangered species that are in all probability already Extinct but for which confirmation is required, for example, through more extensive surveys being carried out and failing to find any individuals.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ (or the IUCN Red List) is the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of plant, fungi and animal species. It is based on an objective system for assessing the risk of extinction of a species should no conservation action be taken.

Species are assigned to one of eight categories of threat based on whether they meet criteria linked to population trend, population size and structure and geographic range. Species listed as Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable are collectively described as ‘Threatened’.

The IUCN Red List is not just a register of names and associated threat categories. It is a rich compendium of information on the threats to the species, their ecological requirements, where they live, and information on conservation actions that can be used to reduce or prevent extinctions.

The IUCN Red List is a joint effort between IUCN and its Species Survival Commission, working with its Red List partners BirdLife International; Botanic Gardens Conservation International; Conservation International; NatureServe; Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; Sapienza University of Rome; Texas A&M University; Wildscreen; and Zoological Society of London.

About IUCN
IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, helps the world find pragmatic solutions to our most pressing environment and development challenges by supporting scientific research; managing field projects all over the world; and bringing governments, NGOs, the UN, international conventions and companies together to develop policy, laws and best practice.

The world's oldest and largest global environmental network, IUCN is a democratic membership union with more than 1,000 government and NGO member organizations, and almost 11,000 volunteer scientists and experts in some 160 countries. IUCN's work is supported by over 1,000 professional staff in 60 offices and hundreds of partners in public, NGO and private sectors around the world. IUCN's headquarters are located in Gland, near Geneva, in Switzerland.
www.iucn.org 

About the Species Survival Commission
The Species Survival Commission (SSC) is the largest of IUCN’s six volunteer commissions with a global membership of around 7500 experts.  SSC advises IUCN and its members on the wide range of technical and scientific aspects of species conservation, and is dedicated to securing a future for biodiversity.  SSC has significant input into the international agreements dealing with biodiversity conservation. 

About Conservation International
Building upon a strong foundation of science, partnership and field demonstration, Conservation International empowers societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature, our global biodiversity, for the long term well-being of people. Founded in 1987, CI has headquarters in the Washington, DC area, and nearly 900 employees working in more than 30 countries on four continents, plus 1,000+ partners around the world. For more information, visit www.conservation.org and follow us on Twitter: @ConservationOrg or Facebook: www.facebook.com/conservation.intl

About Old Dominion University
Old Dominion University is Virginia's forward-focused, public doctoral research university for high-performing students from around the world. The university has 26 research centers and a total enrollment of 24,000 students.
http://www.odu.edu

About Lenfest Ocean Program
The Lenfest Ocean Program supports scientific research aimed at forging solutions to the challenges facing the global marine environment. The program was established in 2004 by the Lenfest Foundation and is managed by the Pew Environment Group.