Posted by: underseaencounters | January 19, 2009

Tuna Tales

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.



  1. ‘Don’t eat the tuna! Don’t eat the tuna!’
    ‘Why not?’
    ‘Because the dolphins get caught in the nets!’

    But what about the tuna?

    I’ve heard it suggested that humans don’t feel the same emotional attachment to fish as to mammals because they don’t have eyelids. Seems plausible.

    We need the tuna (and all other fish) because it forms an important part of a complex ecosystem.

    It’s been suggested that the lack of oxygen in the Baltic sea is not down to pollution – but rather that one of the top predators, the cod, is almost gone due to overfishing. Cod eat herring, which in turn eat animal plankton, which in turn eat vegetable plankton. No cod means more herring and more vegetable plankton. More vegetable plankton means less oxygen and in turn less fish.

  2. I read on the web that “only Albacore can legally be sold in canned form as ‘white meat tuna'” in the US. And that in Australia, since 2003, canned tuna has “usually” been “yellowfin, skipjack or tongol (labeled ‘northern bluefin’)”.


    Southern Bluefin remains on the “critically endangered” list but efforts have been made to cut-down on their capture. Hope they stick– apparently Japan was blamed for a lot of the fishing back in 2006!

    Is Albacore okay? That’s what I have in the cabinet: dolphin-safe Albacore.

  3. Well, there is Albacore Tuna certified by the MSC:

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