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There’s no feeling in the world like swimming at my top speed of 43.5 mph (70 kph), and sensing a bait ball in the water. A bait ball is when small schooling fishes like anchovies or sardines form a tight ball when predators are near. Their instinct is safety in numbers. To top level predators like me, it’s a dream come true! I live in the open ocean where food is scarce, and I have to be opportunistic whenever possible, or else I swim with an empty stomach.
Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Tunny, and I am an Atlantic bluefin tuna. You most likely have encountered me at your local sushi restaurant where I am called “maguro.” Did you know that I am quickly becoming an endangered species? Atlantic bluefin tuna will become extinct if we keep getting fished at current rates. My counterparts in the Black Sea have already become extinct. In the last 40 years, bluefin tuna have declined by 72% in the Eastern Atlantic Ocean, and by 82% in the Western Atlantic Ocean.
There are quotas in place to try and prevent overfishing by ICCAT (International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas), but that does not stop illegal fishing beyond those quotas. One record breaking bluefin tuna sold for a whopping $735,000! We can grow to be 990 pounds (450 kg), which is a lot of sushi.
The danger of fishing for tuna is not just that we may become extinct, but many fishing methods kill other animals during the process. This is called bycatch. On land, the equivalent would be hunting for deer, but also killing squirrels, birds, bears, and wolves along the way. Longline fishing sets out bait hooks at fixed intervals over a fishing line that may be several miles long. In the course of targeting tuna, animals such as seabirds, sea turtles, sharks, dolphins, and whales may also be caught. Those animals either need air to breathe, or must swim constantly to breathe, and they die when caught in a fishing line.
You can help! Download the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch App and avoid eating anything (including me!) on their red list.
UPDATE 2016: Pacific Bluefin population down by 97% Washington Post article “Sushi-alert: grim outlook for bluefin tuna”