If you were skeptical with the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation’s (ISSF) status of healthy for Pacific bigeye tuna, you will, unfortunately, feel vindicated at the recent downgrading of the species stock to orange, meaning that Pacific bigeye is now considered overfished. While bigeye tuna are not in a state of imminent collapse, according to the ISSF, stocks are gradually declining and big picture changes need to be made to the way the species is managed globally. Bigeye tuna is down to 16 percent of its original population, but catch rates have only grown with record breaking catch of the fish by Honolulu in the previous year.
There are 23 major stocks of commercial tuna species, six albacore, four bigeye, four bluefin, five skipjack and four yellowfin stocks. Bigeye tuna account for 10% of the legal fishing of tuna, meaning that bigeye stocks are the third most exploited. It is unclear if the green, or healthy rating that the ISSF accorded to bigeye tuna stocks contributed to the continued decline in health of bigeye population. President Barack Obama has taken steps to protect the fish and other stocks by extending the no-fishing area around pacific islands Jarvis, south Palmyra and Wake, increasing the no-fishing zone which has brought praise by environmental groups and harsh criticism from the fishing industry.
While banning of fishing gear could help contribute to the overall management of bigeye tuna, it is reduction in fishing rates that are needed in order to stop the gradual decline in stock before the viability of the species reaches the tipping point. It is not just a matter of decreasing by-catch and outlawing the most harmful fishing methods, but a matter of global participation in making long term plans that will restore not just bigeye tuna but all at risk tuna stocks.