Atlantic bluefin tuna are fantastic predators. If we could observe them in their oceanic world, we would hold them in similar regard as the big cats, bears and eagles.
Torpedo-shaped fish averaging 550 pounds as adults, bluefins can swim at 43 mph in pursuit of fish, squid, eels and just about anything else that swims. They can even filter feed on zooplankton and small organisms.
Bluefin tuna also have great endurance. Some tagged and tracked fish have crossed the Atlantic Ocean several times in one year.
Their great swimming ability comes in part from adaptations that scientists have only recently understood in their pursuit of faster body suits for Olympic swimmers. A series of small, nonretractable fins on their tails reduce water turbulence and drag.
Bluefins can also retract their pectoral and dorsal fins into body slots, reducing drag further.
They migrate each year to the Gulf of Mexico and Mediterranean Sea to spawn. But since they are warm-blooded - rare among fish - they feed as far north as the chilly waters off Iceland and Newfoundland.
Atlantic bluefins are also excellent to eat, so good that we can't stop overfishing them even though we have reduced their numbers by
80 percent since we started keeping track about 30 years ago.
Catching a big bluefin may be relatively rare now, but the possible reward for doing so is great. In January, a 513-pound bluefin sold for $177,000 - well shy of the record price of $220,000 set in 2001.
The latest attempt to help the bluefin population recover failed this past week when the nations of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species voted against bluefin protections. Heavy lobbying by Japan - which consumes about 80 percent of bluefins - and opposition by Canada and European fishing nations sank the proposal.
Conservation groups have sought CITES protection since the early 1990s because the international body charged with protecting bluefins, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, has consistently allowed far more tuna catches than what scientists say is sustainable.
As a result, the bluefin population in the western Atlantic - our bluefin tuna - is now just 3 percent of what it was in the 1960s before long-lining commercial fishing began, according to ICCAT figures.
This is not only bad for the fish, but also for the recreational and charter fishing segments of the southern New Jersey economy.
There are far fewer bluefins available to regional anglers and the fish are smaller. At last July's South Jersey Marina Tuna Tournament out of Cape May, the largest bluefin was 169 pounds - far below what should be the average adult size.
The failure to adequately protect Atlantic bluefin tuna probably won't drive them to extinction. Even at the prices bluefins fetch, catching the last of them hopefully could be prohibitively expensive.
But through our lack of self-control, we are depriving ourselves of a sustainable harvest of bluefin tuna many times higher than the 13,500 tons ICCAT is allowing this year.
We're hurting the amazing bluefin tuna, but we're hurting ourselves more.
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