Record price for a bluefin – supply and demand conspire to drive a species into extinction

The MSM is reporting this morning that a 269 kilogram bluefin tuna sold for $736,700 in a Tokyo fish market today. At least this one is going to be eaten. Mitsubishi Corp has been gobbling up tons of bluefin and putting them into deep freeze – anticipating their eventual extinction when the meat will be invaluable.

It isn’t hard to understand the global economics that are driving these giants of the open ocean into extinction. The rarer they are, the more valuable they get. This (demand) just increases fishing pressure as the supply dwindles. Econ 101. While the hapless national and international agencies charged with managing the species do nothing – well, not quite nothing, but they ignore the science and cave to political pressure.

In an interview with Dr. Bruce Collette, one of the world’s leading ichthyologists and a senior scientist at the NMFS National Systematics Laboratory in Washington DC and lead author of a paper published recently in Science that assessed the vulnerability of seamonsters like tuna and marlin, Emmett asked about the role of supply and demand in driving markets and fishing:

Emmett:  Your paper notes that the high market value of Bluefin tuna means they are likely to be hunted intensively regardless of regulations. What can be done about this – is there any hope for this species?

Bruce: When one Pacific bluefin can sell for $396,000 at a Japanese auction, it is indeed difficult to persuade fishermen that they shouldn’t hunt for even the very last Bluefin. Rarity always commands a high price in jewelry, real estate, pets, and food. For example, no directed fishing for bluefin is allowed in the Gulf of Mexico, the spawning grounds for the western Atlantic population of the species, but fishermen are allowed to bring in one bluefin caught incidental to fishing for yellowfin. But if one bluefin might be worth thousands of dollars, why not try for the one bluefin which might be worth more than the boatload of yellowfin? Listing on CITES might help because then we would have a paper trail of where any bluefin captured goes.

Rare, long-lived and priceless – not a good place to be.

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