LIHUE — The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries branch has determined that Pacific bluefin tuna are not endangered and do not need protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The determination was announced Monday by Chris Yates, assistant regional administrator for protected resources, NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region, in response to a petition from activists and environmental groups across the nation asking the Trump administration to list Pacific bluefin tuna as endangered.
Most fishermen on Kauai don’t catch Pacific bluefin tuna, according to representatives from the Western Pacific Advisory Council, but longline fishermen and those who venture away from Kauai shores do catch them.
A scientific review team found that the population is large enough to avoid the risks associated with a small population, such as a year with low survival, and that Pacific bluefin has recovered from similarly low levels in the past.
“What we did find was that fishing was really the highest risk to species of the 25 possible threats,” said Matthew Craig, chair of the Pacific Bluefin Tuna Status Review Team. “But in 2014, the last time we did a stock assessment of the species, there were 1.6 million individual bluefin tuna, about 140,000 at reproductive size. There are quite a few bluefin tuna out in the North Pacific.”
NOAA Fisheries concluded in October that the petition from environmental groups and conservationists presented substantial information that a listing may be warranted, and convened a Status Review Team of fisheries, conservation biologists and other experts to assess the current status of the species.
The Scientific Review Team evaluated 25 different threats to Pacific bluefin, including commercial fisheries, prey depletion, marine pollution and climate change.
All the available trend data, when taking those threats into consideration, pointed toward stable or increasing viability, according to NOAA.
While Pacific bluefin numbers are low relative to historic levels, the Status Review Team found that the species is likely at low risk of extinction.
Pacific bluefin tuna are among the largest and fastest fish in the ocean. While all Pacific bluefin spawn in the western Pacific Ocean off Japan, some also migrate across the Pacific and may spend up to several years off the U.S. West Coast. Japanese fisheries land the most Pacific bluefin, followed by Mexico, the U.S., Korea and Taiwan.
While overfishing is something that should be monitored, fishermen are not catching more than the yield of the bluefin spawning rate, researchers reported.
“In almost every study, we found that the population is projected to be be increased or continue as steady,” said Craig. “The next stock assessment is in 2018, and the data that has come out is showing signs for improvement, mainly because there is a new cohort that will be reproductively ready. We’ll have to see next year.”