The Bluefin tuna, already under serious pressure due to overfishing in the North Atlantic, is being threatened by the oil disaster now playing out in the Gulf of Mexico, which is the spawning habitat for the western Bluefin. The Center for Biological Diversity has filed a formal petition to protect this imperiled species under the Endangered Species Act.
“Endangered status for bluefin tuna could mean enhanced protections for all fish and wildlife in the Gulf. Oil rigs are scattered throughout essential breeding habitat for bluefin tuna, and protections could force reforms of the Interior Department’s lax environmental oversight of the oil industry by limiting drilling to avoid adverse effects on fish and their habitat.” – Catherine Kilduff, author of the petition and oceans attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity
The oil spill disaster could devastate the western Atlantic Bluefin population, because millions of gallons of oil are flooding into the tuna’s spawning habitat during this crucial season. The tuna’s eggs and larvae may be decimated through floating in the oil sheen, and even adult tunas could be harmed by breathing the oil into their gills. The heavy use of oil dispersants used in the Gulf also threatens the tuna. According to the Center, the dispersed oil is known to be toxic to fish.
Two populations of Atlantic bluefin tuna are imperiled – one only spawns in the Gulf of Mexico, and the other spawns in the Mediterranean. The recently filed petition wants both populations to be granted endangered status, both of which have been severely depleted due to intense overfishing. Fishermen reported catching 34,514 tons of eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna in 2007, which exceeded the allowable catch by about 5,000 tons, and scientists have estimated that the actual catch was most likely double the amounts reported.
“Bluefin tuna encounter thousands of deadly hooks while migrating across the Atlantic, and now an oil spill will welcome home the survivors. Bluefin tuna need the protection of the Endangered Species Act, which can provide an important safety net before bluefin tuna disappear entirely from the ocean.” – Kilduff
The Bluefin tuna is among the fastest of all species, reaching speeds of over 55 miles per hour, and can migrate across the oceans. The species is threatened by overfishing and changing conditions in the ocean due to the effects of global warming, but if the petition is acted upon, critical habitat for the Bluefin would be protected, and importation of Bluefin tuna would be banned. In addition, federal agencies such as the Minerals Management Service would be required to avoid jeopardizing the populations.
For more information on the Gulf oil spill and its effects on wildlife, see the Center for Biological Diversity’s Gulf Oil Spill page.