Is It Wrong to Eat Bluefin Tuna? An Expert Weighs In

A recent visit to Japan’s popular Tsukiji Fish Market showed us that something far more sinister is happening.

Southern bluefin tuna were marked and labelled at a fish market in Tokyo, Japan.
© Michael Sutton / WWF

There were snaking queues for bluefin tuna. But we weren’t surprised.

Bluefin tuna is one of the most sought-after type of fish in the world. In 2013, a 489-pound tuna was sold for $1.8 million, and most recently in 2019, a single Pacific bluefin tuna in Japan was sold for $3.1 million.

This shows how valuable they are. But why does it cost so much?

We reached out to WWF Leader, Oceans and Seafood Group, Dr Aiko Yamaguchi, to find out more about the widely-eaten delicacy.

Q: Is the bluefin tuna in trouble?

“In 2016, we learned that the Pacific bluefin tuna spawning stock was down to just 2.6% of unfished levels. In 2018, scientists did another assessment and the spawning stock had improved to around 4-5%. However, this is still seriously low.”

Note: Spawning stock is the number of individuals that are old enough to reproduce.

Q: Who catches and eats the most bluefin tuna?

Raw tuna pieces were selected to be served as sushi or sashimi at Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, Japan.
© Michel Gunther / WWF

“Most Pacific bluefin tuna is caught and eaten in Japan. They consume around 70-80% of all products. They catch the tuna in Japanese waters and the North-West Pacific Ocean. Pacific bluefin tuna is served as sushi or sashimi, a non-cooked raw slice.”

Q: What can we do to help?

“There is a very successful recovery story of Atlantic bluefin tuna from the Atlantic Ocean, which also had very low numbers. Not only did fishermen and policy makers help the tuna recover, but consumers showed their strong commitment to saving the tuna from extinction. We can do the same for bluefin tuna in this part of the world – help bluefin tuna recover by reducing your consumption until we see their populations increase again.”

Let’s help bluefin tuna by not eating them at restaurants. If everyone makes a choice not to eat them, commercial demand for bluefin will decrease, giving their populations a chance to increase in the wild. Otherwise, they will continue the swim toward extinction.

Bonus read:

A sneak peek at our initiative in saving juvenile tuna populations in the Philippines

Many tuna fisheries in the Philippines are severely overfished, with the incomes of thousands of small-scale handline fishermen at risk. To protect their livelihoods and restore healthy tuna populations, we are now implementing steps to save juvenile tuna in these areas, starting with
a compensation payment system that allows the fishermen to get a daily income – even if they stop fishing the juvenile species.

A tuna fish landing at Palawan in the Philippines.
© Jürgen Freund / WWF

We are also working with potential investment partners and the world’s largest tuna companies to raise awareness on incentivising catch reduction of juvenile tuna. By allowing the fishes to grow to adulthood, we are not just protecting a key marine species but also securing long-term economic benefits for over 5,000 fishermen in 112 villages.

This interview first appeared in Panda Junior May-June 2019/ Issue 17.

If you like reading this, see how restaurants in Singapore are doing after shark fin was removed from their menus, how a project manager helped to save more than a million hectares of marine lives in Philippines, and the hidden message behind Our Planet’s desperate plea to save forests.

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