The northern bluefin tuna is native to the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. The source of nearly all the tuna used in sushi, it is particularly revered in Japan where a large specimen can command $100,000 in Tokyo fish markets.
The fish live in deep ocean waters where no country has jurisdiction, and as a result they have been subject to decades of overfishing.
The problem is approaching crisis stage. Brian MacKenzie and colleagues at the Technical University of Denmark reported in particular that even if all bluefin fishing were halted immediately, bluefin populations in both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean will likely collapse within a decade.
Not that the current plan comes anywhere close to an outright ban. In theory, the organization that sets bluefin fishing policies is the Madrid-based International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). Its performance has prompted the Economist to propose that ICCAT actually stands for International Conspiracy to Catch All Tunas.
ICCAT had set a quota of 30,000 metric tons per year even though scientists suggest this is 2-4 times the sustainable amount. In response to the outcry from the scientific community (which must have been tough to hear amid the din arising from sushi restaurants on 6 continents), ICCAT reduced its quota to 25,000 metric tons. Whoop-de-damn-do!
Let’s not even start on the fact that at least 50,000 metric tons are actually landed each year due to illegal fishing and non-existent monitoring.
Oh, and even if ICCAT set a properly aggressive limit and became empowered to enforce it, there’s the problem of how the 46 participating countries would divvy up the catch.