Inside an illegal bluefin tuna pen

Gary Stokes knows there's a real world to protect. He has lived the opening chapters of we are POD for real.

Gary is the director of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, SE Asia, and has been inside illegal tuna pens where criminal gangs keep thousands of bluefin tuna destined for the sushi bars of Japan. That is how he took the dramatic bluefin photos on our website.

The bluefin tuna of the Mediterranean are being pushed to the brink of extinction, but there are a few first signs that Japan may finally be recognising that action has to be taken. Japan's Fisheries Agency are agreeing to drastically reduce catches of juvenile fish in the northern Pacific. Will this decision also help to protect bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean or will it simply increase the pressure on them?

One of the most shocking aspects of the bluefin tuna industry is that there are clear indications that large companies in Japan are speculating on the extinction of the species.

Gary explains that Japan's Mitsubishi Corporation handles nearly half of the world's bluefin tuna market.

'It currently buys up, freezes and stores around 20,000 tons of bluefin every year for ‘investment purposes’. Profiting from the extinction seems to be at the heart of the operation. The company freezes the fish “to even out the peaks and troughs in supply” but the actual effect is that it is driving up prices and creating a scarcity in supply.,' explains Gary.

Gary believes that speculating on the extinction of a species is a crime against the environment and a very dangerous game as bluefin tuna are apex predators. Their extinction would have a major impact on the whole foodchain.

Inside a bluefin tuna net (photo © 2014 Gary Stokes)

'Japanese companies have strong vested interests in keeping up the supply of cheap bluefin from the Mediterranean,' Gary says. 'Almost all exports from tuna farms go through Japanese trading companies. Torei-Toyo Reizo (the tuna arm of Mitsubushi), Takayama, Kayo, Maruha and Mitsui all have their fingers in the tuna farming industry.'

In some countries such as Croatia, Japanese capital has been used to establish new farms. Along with Japanese investments, the European Union is supporting the development of tuna farms by handing out subsidies to the fishing communities. Subsidies are also being used for the building of tuna processing factories and the construction of new vessels, in addition to the fleets that are already fishing way over the quota.'

A further problem with fish farms, wherever they are, is that fish are fed on fish so creating a fish farm often leads to the depletion of other fish stocks. In the Mediterannean there are concerns about falling anchovy stocks, one of the species fed to farmed bluefin tuna.

With the survival of bluefin tuna hanging in the balance, Gary Stokes is hoping that one or more nations will step forward and submit a proposal to CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) for consideration at the CoP17 meeting in South Africa in 2016.

Comments (1)


4th June, 2014
Blue fin tuna are very big fish!

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