Bluefin Tuna at the Brink

Bluefin tuna at 3%, that’s it!

Pacific bluefin tuna has unique worldwide status as one of the most awe-inspiring remarkable creatures on the planet. They grow to 12 feet and 1,500 pounds and live up to 35 years whilst swimming super-fast, crossing the entire ocean in 21 days. They are the essence of nature’s wonderful creativity and beauty.

Unequivocally, the bluefin’s days are numbered, almost guaranteed to go extinct, prompting the question: Is bluefin tuna a metaphor for global warming’s impact on civilization? And if so, how so? It’s a fair question as the impact of the Great Acceleration (BGNG 1940s) increasingly interjects humans into the finer workings of the ecosystem, which is rapidly morphing into “Humanature,” an embryonic field of scientific study that is not yet acknowledged.

Overfishing, greedy uncivilized thoughtless arrogance, bluster and audacity (sounds like the ‘neoliberal’ brand of capitalism) have chopped up, physically destroyed the stock of bluefin tuna. “The stock is down over 97 percent from pre-fishing levels, so there is no doubt the species needs to have some protection put in place,” according to Duke University research scientist Andre Boustany.1

Bluefins caught today are mostly juveniles, up to 98% of total catch. They have not reproduced and never will because they’ll never have the opportunity. Pacific bluefin tuna reach reproductive maturity at five years and 125 pounds weight. Their predators are Japan (50%) and Mexico (30%) as the major perpetrators while the U.S. (2%) is a minor player.

Because bluefins travel the entire ocean, passing through complicated jurisdictional authorities, the probability of enforcing limits on fishing or conservation measures are not going to happen, especially with voluntary limits. Besides, they are doomed in large measure because bluefin is priced in the marketplace like a piece of artwork. The price of Bluefin at the market does not inhibit demand because the greed factor collapses capitalism’s laws of supply/demand. Inelastic demand is at work.

The impending extinction factor of bluefin tuna, in certain respects, resembles the issue of global warming. Similar to mindlessly butchering fishing stock down to 3%, nobody seems to care enough to seriously tackle global warming’s impending threat of human extinction. The world wears blinders, thereby ignoring reality.

After all, the best shot at tackling global warming is the Paris 2015 Agreement, which calls for 100% voluntary action to defeat the global warming leviathan. Voluntary… really? Whereas if they were actually, truly serious, there would be heavy, very heavy repercussions for failure to meet stringent guidelines, even though the U.S. demanded the Paris accord 2015 be voluntary to avoid a clash with the U. S. Senate, which must ratify treaties.

Voluntarism will not save any species. The economic model of the world, neoliberal capitalism, is too focused on profits, the invisible hand of free markets, deregulation of governments, and significantly, converting public assets to private ownership, to adhere to undependable anemic voluntarism.

Similar to humanity’s utter disregard for proper conservation measures to save the bluefin tuna, humanity fails at the threat of global warming, falling on its own sword, regrettably a powerful reflection of neoliberalism’s loathing of governmental regulations. Let the markets decide.

James Hansen, the father of climate change awareness, says of the Paris Agreement 2015: “It’s a fraud really, a fake.”2

Still in all, if the world community really truly cared, similarly for bluefin tuna, they’d establish brutal repercussions for failure to comply with stiff, very stiff restrictions. But similar to the bluefin tuna story, nobody’s serious enough. International agreements to curb catches of Pacific bluefin tuna are voluntary and wildly violated. It’s fluff, blah, blah, blah. Meanwhile, the bluefin’s remaining shot at existence is down to 3%. Afterwards, sayonara.

What then of global warming? According to NASA, over the past 800,000 years based upon ice-core data, CO2 has fluctuated between 170 ppm and 290 ppm. The safe level to prevent global warming from running out of control is below 350 ppm.

Today, it is over 400 and not safe, shockingly increasing like gangbusters, actually accelerating its rate of growth year over year, which is roughly equivalent to the 3% level for bluefin tuna’s future outlook of survival of the species.

In turn, CO2 blankets the earth’s atmosphere thus trapping heat in similar fashion to its sister planet Venus where average temps are 864 F. That’s real hot!  The reason Venus has so much heat-trapping CO2 (96.5% of its atmosphere) is because that’s where all of its carbon is located. On Earth most of the carbon is still underground or trapped under ice, for now.

Meanwhile, as for the various species of the world, according to Dr. Stuart Pimm, conservation ecologist at Duke University: “In the next few decades we’ll be driving species to extinction a thousand times faster than we should be.”3

Begging the question, when will the last bluefin tuna swim across the Pacific?

Postscript:

If governments fail to take immediate action, a population collapse isn’t just possible—it’s inevitable.
The Pew Charitable Trust, July 19, 2017.

By the end of the 20th century, up to 90 percent of the sharks, tuna, swordfish, marlins, groupers, turtles, whales, and many other large creatures that prospered in the Gulf for millions of years had been depleted by overfishing.
— Legendary Oceanographer Sylvia Earle, American marine biologist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence.

  1. Alastair Bland, “Should Pacific Bluefin Tuna Be Listed As An Endangered Species?” National Public Radio, June 29, 2016. []
  2. “James Hansen, Father of Climate Change Awareness, Calls Paris Talks ‘A Fraud’,” The Guardian, December 12, 2015. []
  3. Racing Extinction, directed by Louie Psihoyos, Discovery Channel, 2015. []

Robert Hunziker (MA, economic history, DePaul University) is a freelance writer and environmental journalist whose articles have been translated into foreign languages and appeared in over 50 journals, magazines, and sites worldwide. He can be contacted at: rlhunziker@gmail.com. Read other articles by Robert.