Marine biologists often talk of “charismatic megafauna,” a fancy way of saying big animals that people love and want to protect—like sea turtles and whales. Tuna, on the other hand, don’t seem to inspire much love and affection (except perhaps from fishermen who appreciate the tuna’s beauty and power). When I think of tuna, I tend to think about what I’m having for lunch. Yet I have been reading increasingly alarming stories about how the bluefin tuna, one of the fastest, largest, most beautiful fish in the sea might soon become extinct because of greed, overfishing, and an insatiable international desire for toro, the fatty part of the underbelly of the tuna.
I recently read Tuna: A Love Story by Richard Ellis (Knopf 2008).
Although written for the layman interested in the subject, it’s not an easy read, but I’d recommend it. Ellis writes writes that “Despite its beauty, power, and grace, the lordly bluefin is still ‘only’ a fish, and as such has been acknowledged first as a food item, and as a distant second as a conservation object.”
So you might say, who cares if the bluefin tuna goes extinct? There are plenty of other fish in the sea. Yet as Richard Ellis writes, “Every living creature, aquatic or terrestrial, has as much right to existence as we do.” That this sleek and magnificent apex predator might soon only exist in managed sea ranches is very sad to me.
As a commenter noted on this post, we cannot eliminate a top predator without devastating consequences to the entire ecosystem. I recently wrote about this in the post Where the Wild Things Were.