The last of the bluefins

You want a sad story? Go over to today’s New York Times Magazine and read “Tuna’s End,” a long, fascinating, and depressing account of the demise of the Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus).  Sushi eaters (especially in Japan) won’t stop eating them, fisherman won’t stop catching them, and no nation is willing to step up to the plate to protect them.

Please, don’t eat bluefins.

Bluefin (painting by Flick Ford).

48 Comments

  1. Hempenstein
    Posted June 27, 2010 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    There are too fucking many people on the planet!

    • Posted June 27, 2010 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

      No, there too many people who do not respect their individual responsibility for maintaining environmental sustainability. Eating Bluefin is just such a irresponsible choice and we can do our individual part to make such a choice carry with it an associated cost, from a highly negative stigma (loss of face in Japan) to broader sanctions in more official capacities for practices that fail to balance the sustainability issue with appropriate costs and benefits.

      • Peter
        Posted June 27, 2010 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

        So how many people do you think the the planet can sustainably support? At what level of civilization would that be?

        • Janet Holmes
          Posted June 28, 2010 at 6:22 am | Permalink

          A lot less and a lot less.

          I live in Australia with a pop of about 22 mil last I looked and trouble finding enough water for them. I read somewhere ages ago, a bloke who estimated that we could support 60 million people but 40 million of them would have to live in Tasmania! It has all the water. This would imply that the mainland is now full.

          • Peter
            Posted June 28, 2010 at 7:11 am | Permalink

            Jared Diamond, in Collapse, mentions that you couldn’t do much worse than choose to farm sheep in Australia, and that Australia doesn’t really farm, it mines its natural resources like wood. It suppose there is a reason that the native population was so small to start with.
            Australia is perhaps a bad example.
            It would be interesting to have an idea of the number of humans the planet can sustainably support at stone age level, and the number at current first world levels (with energy and waste optimization). I have seen some academics claim that the planet can sustainably support a population of 500, 000 at stone age level. That sound a bit extreme to me.
            There are other things to consider, though. Such as the rate of innovation increasing as the population increases. The rate of knowledge loss decreases as the population increases. So more people may be a solution to the problem by the simple expediency that someone may come up with a way of living at a high level of civilization with minimal impact. I wouldn’t hold my breath, though!

  2. bigjohn756
    Posted June 27, 2010 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    Eventually no one will eat blue-fin tuna because there won’t be any. Then, no one will eat shark fin soup because there will be no more sharks. Some day, after that, no one will eat anything because everyone will be gone. Then our beautiful planet will recover and go about its business without us.

    • Insightful Ape
      Posted June 27, 2010 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

      Hey, the planet survived mass extinctions at the end of permian and Cretaceous. No reason it won’t survive another. Except that we won’t be around to see what happens next.

    • Posted June 27, 2010 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

      I am always surprised how poorly so many people think of our capacity to survive as an adaptive species capable of significantly altering our environment. Although it is perfectly justifiable to lament environmental abuse and the loss of biodiversity, I think it is as justifiable to maintain a high level of optimism about our future.

      The world, like the universe, is a pretty inhospitable place to life in general, and Nature as a whole is both indifferent and brutal to the comforts of its biomass. Yet life stubbornly persists and we are no different in that aspect. If there is a way for us to survive against not only these hardships but our own collective stupidity in creating even more hardships, I think we stand a fair chance in the foreseeable future. One thing humans do very well is adapt and I see no reason to lose hope that we shall continue to do so… even if we are the primary source for that need.

      • David Ratnasabapathy
        Posted June 27, 2010 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

        Um, have you seen what the slums of India look like? *That* is the impoverished environment our vaunted adaptability will be adapting us to. Just because we survive doesn’t mean we’d be happy to, or want our children to. Not when there’s an alternative.

        • Kirth Gersen
          Posted June 29, 2010 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

          “Um, have you seen what the slums of India look like?”

          The Indian slums have gotten a lot of publicity thanks to Mother Theresa and “Slumdog Millionaire.” It’s easy to forget, though, that we have urban areas right here in the U.S. in which conditions are equally as bad — it’s just that most native Westerners carefully avoid entering them. Somehow it’s always easier to see someone else’s problems.

          As Jim Kelly points out in Enter the Dragon: “Ghettos are the same all over the world.”

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted June 27, 2010 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

      It will only recover by evolving new species. It is a wild guess as to which current species will evolve into future ones. The current ones will be gone forever.

    • MonkeyDeathcar
      Posted June 27, 2010 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

      I hate to admit this, but just last night I had shark fin soup for the first time. Not because I asked for it, but because it was served at a Chinese wedding. I honestly didn’t know you could get this stuff in the US. It disgusted me try it and I have to say it was the most bland unimpressive soup I’ve had. I may have been biased being that I know, somewhat, what this soup costs the environment. I didn’t finish it, but I couldn’t make a scene about it either.

      The thing that bothered me most, is after the wedding I talked to my girlfriend about the soup. She had no idea what they do to the sharks that are sacrificed for their fins. I don’t understand how one can be ignorant about this.

      Moral of the story is there is no reason to eat this food. It’s bland, tasteless, gelatinous, broth with little meat and no taste. (Did I mention it was bland?)

      Back to lurking. And any chastising I get for trying it is well deserved so please do your worst.

      • Kiwi Dave
        Posted June 28, 2010 at 3:55 am | Permalink

        Quite so, Monkey. The stuff tastes like salty, lumpy glue, so it’s very easy not to eat it. I gather any flavour in the soup is the result of adding chicken stock and msg.

        Given the numerous tasty, cheap and delicious dishes any Chinese restaurant can serve, I can only assume that my colleagues and relatives eat this for the same reason some people have gold foil shavings on their dessert.

      • Janet Holmes
        Posted June 28, 2010 at 6:31 am | Permalink

        Shark fin soup, like many Chinese dishes is more about the texture, thick and gelatinous than about the taste. Sea cucumber is the same, the Chinese seem to have a fondness for the sort of tasteless, chewy rubberyness of it but it has no flavour. Pig’s ears also. I never eat it since I found out how it’s produced, but once it’s dished up there’s no benefit to the shark in having it thrown away, you may as well try it.

        • Woody Tanaka
          Posted June 29, 2010 at 10:18 am | Permalink

          “I never eat it since I found out how it’s produced, but once it’s dished up there’s no benefit to the shark in having it thrown away, you may as well try it.”

          I disagree; while it may not benefit the shark that’s already been killed, refusing to eat it can help turn the tide against this disgusting practice.

          People serve this dish, in part, because it is eaten. (Obviously, there are a host of reasons for it, but one of them is the fact that it is eaten.) As more and more guests refused to eat this soup due to the grotesque nature of the way it is obtained, the odds would increase that it would stop being served at future events.

          The only reason these animals are being tortured and slaughtered as they are is because of demand. Refusing to eat it is a decrease in that demand.

  3. Stephen
    Posted June 27, 2010 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    I am continually appalled at the meat eating holocaust that is wrecking so much havoc on the planet.

    Maybe no nation is helping, but certain individuals and groups are, like Sea Shepherd:
    http://www.seashepherd.org/news-and-media/news-100617-1.html

  4. Jackie
    Posted June 27, 2010 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    To tildeb:
    I suggest you watch Albert A Bartlett’s lecture “Arithmetic, Population, and Energy” on You-tube. Sustainability depends first on zero population growth.
    There are too fucking many people on the planet.

    • Malachi
      Posted June 27, 2010 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

      The problem with that view is it sees individuals as only consumers and not producers. The reason such dire warnings about population have always proven false is because people have brains. The more people there are the more brains there are the more ideas there are.

      Human beings are the only species on the planet that produces more of what they consume and the more of it they consume the more they produce. We eat a lot of chickens. Because of that there are a whole lot of chickens. We consume a lot of corn. Because of that there is miles after miles of corn.

      The problem we see with the bluefin tuna is the result of a broken economic system. A classic case of the tragedy of the commons. There are no property rights and a lot of poorly aligned incentives.

      Fix the economic problem and you solve the bluefin tuna fish problem.

      • Hempenstein
        Posted June 27, 2010 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

        Indeed, there are miles and miles of corn. Here are some statistics for you, that suggest we’re teetering on the brink there very soon, too. Fast fwd to the last para, if you like, before consuming the statistics: http://www.agweb.com/get_article.aspx?pageid=157854&src=fscrn

        • Janet Holmes
          Posted June 28, 2010 at 6:39 am | Permalink

          Yeah, well if you’re going to start feeding cars with people food, you’re going to run out of people food, duh!

        • Hempenstein
          Posted June 28, 2010 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

          It seems hard to find good numbers for how much of the corn crop is going into bioethanol – it you have good numbers, please post. Certainly, it’s a major factor but China is a big part of the demand side now too:

          http://www.agweb.com/get_article.aspx?src=gennews&pageid=157986

          But that’s not to diminish the whole bioethanol business that seemed looney from the start. A lot of those biofuel plants have gone belly-up now, for lack of feedstock, I think. One that I’ve heard about from reliable contacts in NW North Dakota was intended to run on 40 railcars of corn/day. If you know much about NW ND agriculture, it’s not exactly the corn hub of the country. Where the investors who put the money up to build that plant figured on getting that amount of feedstock up there, I can’t imagine. Anyway, that’s one that’s gone nowhere – presumably a complete loss to all of its backers.

      • Jackie
        Posted June 27, 2010 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

        So if worse comes to worst, the idea is we will eat brains?

        • Malachi
          Posted June 27, 2010 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

          “It’s people!” LOL!

          It’s only 12 years away!

      • Woody Tanaka
        Posted June 29, 2010 at 10:29 am | Permalink

        “A classic case of the tragedy of the commons. There are no property rights and a lot of poorly aligned incentives.”

        The solution isn’t some sort of “free-market” private-property idea. The problem is that there are insufficient regulation on the catch, and no force willing to do what is necessary to enforce even co-called sustainable levels.

        The international system a nation that want to act like locusts, destroying everything in the seas, to have a veto over the wishes of the rest.

        The nations of the world should declare the fish (as well as sharks and whales, for that matter) a protected resource, which does not become the property of the fisherman who catch them, and treat these people as poachers, through the use of military force if necessary.

        If not, the likely outcome is extinction, followed by the predictable crocodile tears by people who aren’t willing to stand up to the bullies when there is a chance.

    • Posted June 27, 2010 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

      Jackie, not necessarily zero but something close to it. You see this occurring (or negative ‘growth’) in developed nations where women have reproductive rights (or the state ‘encourages’ low reproduction). Sustainable population has its political and economic benefits, too. I am not advocating uncontrolled population; I am just saying that people tend to overlook (or fail to take into meaningful account) the power of human adaptability as a species when making dire predictions about the inevitable demise of humanity.

      • Jackie
        Posted June 27, 2010 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

        From what I’ve read on this blog, if I’m understanding correctly, species don’t adapt, individuals do. What you seem to be saying is that political and economic forces will mould individual behaviour to the better good; I hope so too. For example, 70% of corn grown is to feed cattle, whose digestive system is designed to eat grass, at great environmental and economic expense, including gov’t. subsidies. These pressures may well ease beef production towards a grass-fed, sustainable and sane model of locally produced beef, which btw is leaner and healthier. Here’s hoping.

        • NewEnglandBob
          Posted June 27, 2010 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

          …beef production towards a grass-fed, sustainable and sane model of locally produced beef, which btw is leaner and healthier.

          The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves By Matt Ridley disagrees with this.

          • Microraptor
            Posted June 27, 2010 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

            Which part does he disagree with?

            • NewEnglandBob
              Posted June 28, 2010 at 4:43 am | Permalink

              The part that small ‘green’ farms are better for the environment. Read the book. It is not simple. I don’t represent him or all his views.

          • Jackie
            Posted June 28, 2010 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

            Will check it out.

        • Janet Holmes
          Posted June 28, 2010 at 6:37 am | Permalink

          Um, actually you’ve got that backwards, individuals do not evolve, the frequency of genes or alleles in the gene pool changes over time and that is evolution.

          • Jackie
            Posted June 28, 2010 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

            Um, OK.

            • Jackie
              Posted June 28, 2010 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

              It was a lame attempt to relate the fact that genes are carried in individuals to social evolution.

  5. Tim Martin
    Posted June 27, 2010 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    I’m wondering… is it legal to sabotage a vessel’s efforts to legally catch fish?

    • Microraptor
      Posted June 28, 2010 at 12:02 am | Permalink

      You do realize that acts of ecoterrorism generally hurt the environmentalist cause more than they hurt the other side, right?

      • Tim
        Posted June 28, 2010 at 6:21 am | Permalink

        Hadn’t really thought about it. Also, you’re assuming something about my comment that isn’t true.

        • Microraptor
          Posted June 28, 2010 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

          I realize that you’re probably speaking in jest.

          I simply don’t find it to be a laughing matter, nor an admirable behavior.

          Environmental protection requires that public opinion be for it. Start planting tree spikes, sabotaging boats, or other such acts, and the public is likely to take a very dim view of you and your cause- ELF being a prime example.

          • Tim
            Posted June 29, 2010 at 6:06 am | Permalink

            Ugh, apparently I have to spell this out.

            “I simply don’t find it to be a laughing matter, nor an admirable behavior.”

            Neither do I. And if it isn’t legal, then why would the NYT article be so nonchalant in describing Greenpeace’s actions? Thus my question.

          • Woody Tanaka
            Posted June 29, 2010 at 10:37 am | Permalink

            Perhaps so, perhaps not. But I know that there are many people out there who take a dim view of the sideline mourners, who cry and cry as industry and capital steps all over them in the quest to squeeze money out of environmental distruction.

            There are those who can work up some admiration for someone taking action to try to make a difference, even when that action is misguided.

      • Janet Holmes
        Posted June 28, 2010 at 6:35 am | Permalink

        Indeed, and look at the word you’re using, “sabotage” when is this likely to be legal or ethical?

        • Tim Martin
          Posted June 28, 2010 at 9:07 am | Permalink

          Indeed. That’s why I’m wondering. Does anyone have any answers, or just assumptions about the intent of my question that – it should be obvious at this point – are mistaken?

        • Woody Tanaka
          Posted June 29, 2010 at 10:40 am | Permalink

          Simply because it is sabotage does not mean that it is unethical. (It would be “illegal,” for obvious reasons.) There are many, many examples in history where sabotage was the only ethical action available.

          • Posted June 29, 2010 at 11:38 am | Permalink

            Often times saboteurs do not appear to think or care about the people affected by their sabotage. I suspect if the saboteurs did, they would find that many acts of sabotage are highly unethical. In this case, sabotaging a fishing boat, the people fishing would very likely be badly hurt financially or physically from an act of sabotage, making it totally unethical.

            • Woody Tanaka
              Posted June 29, 2010 at 11:47 am | Permalink

              I don’t believe that financially hurting people who are finning sharks is in any way unethical. They, themselves, are participating in an unethical activity. Why the hell should I care if they lose money because of it?

              They can find another job; the shark can’t find another fin.

          • Posted June 29, 2010 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

            I don’t believe that financially hurting people who are finning sharks is in any way unethical. They, themselves, are participating in an unethical activity. Why the hell should I care if they lose money because of it?

            They can find another job; the shark can’t find another fin.

            You are a sick person if you think that. All you would be doing by sabotaging a fishing boat is ruining the lives of a few individuals whose livelihood depends on fishing while not addressing the problem at all. It is terrorism.

            • Woody Tanaka
              Posted July 1, 2010 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

              “You are a sick person if you think that.”

              Well, I think you are a sick person if you tolerate shark finning in order to protect the financial investment of the shark finners.

              “All you would be doing by sabotaging a fishing boat is ruining the lives of a few individuals whose livelihood depends on fishing while not addressing the problem at all.”

              You would also be preventing anyone from finning from that boat. Which is pretty darned good thing, in my book.

              And if someone chooses to take out one of these boats, why should I care? I look at it this way: if someone is driving around robbing banks, would I care if someone stopped him by putting sugar in the gas tank or by puncturing his tire? No. Same here, except for it’s over something really important, and not just some stolen money.

              It is not as if these shark finners are innocents. If they expect others to respect their property, then perhaps they should respect the wildlife. They’re the ones who choose this practice; they can choose to do something else.

              Now, would I prefer that they voluntarily choose not to do this immoral practice? Of course. But again, why should I shed a tear if they lose their boats because they chose to do this immoral practice?

              “It is terrorism.”

              That’s a label, not an argument.

              Besides, who in the wrong, here? The person who is cutting the fins off of a live animal and tossing it in the ocean to make a buck due to some insane cultural practice or the person who tries to stop it?

    • Posted June 29, 2010 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      Of course not! That would be tantamount to terrorism. What needs to happen is better international cooperation banning Atlantic bluefin tuna fishing.

  6. Posted June 29, 2010 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Atlantic bluefin tuna are fattened up in pens and fished primarily in and around the Mediterranean according to the World Wildlife Foundation (link). There are two other bluefin tunas, the Pacific bluefin and the Southern bluefin in addition to four other varieties of tuna, making it difficult for food industry workers to know what kind of tuna they are serving you. National Marine Fisheries Service’s FishWatch website (link) has more detailed information on the Atlantic bluefin tuna that is in danger of being fished to extinction.

    The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) is supposed to be regulating the Atlantic bluefin tuna industry but is apparently failing at that.

    Last thing, the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, which tracks all tuna catches except bluefin catches, estimates that all bluefin tunas combined make up about 1% of the global annual tuna catch.


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