Saturday, April 30, 2005

Tuna fears exaggerated

Recent claims that Pacific tuna are disastrously overfished are exaggerated, according to study published this month.

Some tropical tuna species are indeed threatened, but others are not, according to the study published in the April issue of the journal Nature.

While the number of bigeye tuna, a favorite of Japan's sashimi market, has been cut by about 70 percent due to overfishing, other species, such as aku and albacore, have shown minimal drops of about 5 percent, said John Sibert, manager of the University of Hawaii's pelagic fisheries research program and one of the authors of the study.

"The impact varies from species to species," Sibert said Thursday.

He said the study was intended to refute research from 2003, also published in Nature, that said populations of large open-ocean fish in the Pacific, including all types of tuna, had been fished down to 10 percent of their original numbers.

A study published in the journal Nature refutes the claim that tuna, like the ones fishermen Vinzi Gregorio and Carmilo Cariales are holding up, is being dangerously overfished in the Pacific.

"My colleagues and I routinely analyze these data and were very surprised by the results of the other study, and we tried to correct it," Sibert said of the 2003 study by Ransom Myers and Boris Worm of Dalhousie University in the Canadian city of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

For the most recent study, researchers examined records from about 5,000 vessels from fishing fleets out of Taiwan, Japan, the United States and South Korea operating in the Western Pacific.

The scientists from Canada stood by their results in a written response to the new study.

"Our main conclusions are still justified," Myers and Worm wrote in a joint statement in Nature. "We find that our estimates of decline remain conservative."

The new study's findings do not mean fishermen can pull tuna from the sea with impunity.

"It's pretty clear that certain species of tuna are nearing their capacity for sustainable fishing," Sibert said.

He said bluefin tuna is in serious decline in the Atlantic, while the populations of yellowfin and skipjack, the two most popular varieties for canning, are relatively healthy.

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