Warning over Pacific bluefin tuna stocks

​Campaigners have warned that global stocks of bluefin tuna will continue their dramatic decline after Japan– by far the fish’s biggest consumer – and other countries failed to agree on new conservation measures.

A four-day meeting in Sapporo, northern Japan, of countries that monitor stocks in most of the Pacific Ocean, made no progress towards helping fish populations recover from decades of overfishing, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Faced with the collapse of bluefin stocks, last year members of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission decided to halve the catch of tuna under 30kg from its average level in 2002-2004, although conservation groups had called for a moratorium to give stocks time to recover.

But campaigners say urgent action is needed to help the bluefin tuna population, which in 2012 was estimated to have plummeted by 96% from unfished levels during nearly a century of overfishing.

“Unfortunately, the only outcome of this week’s meeting is a guarantee that the Pacific bluefin tuna population will decline even further because of the continued inaction of 10 governments responsible for the management of this species,” said Amanda Nickson, Pew’s director of global tuna conservation.

Nickson criticised Japan for not supporting extra conservation measures that would enable the fish, which spawn millions of eggs a year, to recover quickly.

About 80% of the global bluefin catch is consumed in Japan, where it is popular served raw as sashimi and sushi.

Soaring demand in China and other parts of Asia are hastening the Pacific bluefin’s demise, prompting the International Union for Conservation of Nature to move it from the “least concern” to the “vulnerable” category on its red list of threatened species last year.

The IUCN estimates the Pacific bluefin population has declined by 19% to 33% over the past 22 years, mainly to satisfy demand in Asia. According to an analysis, Pacific bluefin stocks will continue to decline through 2018, even with full implementation of existing conservation measures.

The institute predicts that over the next 10 years, there is a one in three chance that the Pacific bluefin population will fall to its lowest level ever recorded.

While researchers in Japan have made progress developing farmed Pacific bluefin that is acceptable to Japanese consumers, they account for only a tiny portion of the market.

“It is disappointing that the Japanese government did not support a strong rebuilding plan for Pacific bluefin considering Japanese fishermen have the most to gain if the population rebuilds, and the most to lose if the population of this valuable species collapses,” Nickson said.

“Since the member governments … again failed to agree on needed protections, the international community may be forced to look at a global trade ban to help save this species.”