Getting Bluefin Tuna Off the Hook
Throughout the month, as part of our GO Fish! campaign on sustainable seafood, we are diving into the issues surrounding overfishing, and how to end it. Things that may not be apparent upon first glance, like the difference between catch methods for the same species, will be more fully explored and clarified. This piece by Kelly Slivka does a good job of that. -- Ed.
Originally published on NY Times Green blog, Sept 18, 2012.
The longline fishery is aptly named. Fishermen will unroll a surface longline into the ocean that can extend for 40 miles and is segmented with baited hooks and buoys. They’ll let it float for a number of hours, hooking whatever swims along that has a taste for the bait.
Then the hooks are emptied of their catch as the line is rewound onto a big spool on the back of the fishing boat. Anything the fishermen want to sell is kept onboard, and anything caught incidentally, known as bycatch, is typically thrown over, dead or alive.
In the Gulf of Mexico, many fishermen use longlines to fish for swordfish and yellowfin tuna, but they also end up catching Atlantic bluefin tuna, among other species. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the Atlantic bluefin as a threatened species and the Gulf of Mexico is known to be one of its spawning grounds, so purposefully fishing for the species has been forbidden in the gulf since 1982.
However, the fishermen are allowed to catch some bluefins while fishing for other species — a loophole that the Pew Environment Group would like to close, said Tom Wheatley, who manages the organization’s Gulf Surface Longline Campaign.