Petition Seeks Endangered Listing For Bluefin Tuna

OCEAN CITY – Prompted in
part by the ongoing oil spill catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico and its
potential devastating effects on the species’ spawning grounds, a national environmental
group this week filed a formal petition seeking Endangered Species Act
protections for Atlantic bluefin tuna, a staple of the resort area’s vast
recreational fishery.

The Center for
Biological Diversity (CBD) on Monday filed a formal scientific petition to
protect Atlantic bluefin tuna under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The
petition urges federal fisheries management agencies to list bluefin tuna as
endangered or threatened under the auspices of the ESA. The same group tried
unsuccessfully in 2007 to have the white marlin listed as endangered or

According to the
petition, the catalyst for the listing now is the ongoing crisis associated
with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but really, the petition for an ESA
listing for bluefin tuna as endangered or threatened has its roots in the
perceived decades-long over-fishing of the species by the recreational and
commercial sectors, both in the U.S. and internationally. According to the
petition, over-fishing has erased more than 80 percent of the bluefin tuna in
the north Atlantic in the last few decades compared to what the population
would be without fishing pressures.

According to the
petition, there are two imperiled populations of Atlantic bluefin tuna, one of
which spawns in the Mediterranean and the other of which spawns only in the
Gulf of Mexico. The petition seeks an endangered status for both populations,
which the CBD believes have collapsed due to over-fishing despite attempts to
set annual quotas for bluefin tuna.

According to Catherine
Kilduff, CBD oceans attorney and author of the ESA petition, an endangered
listing for bluefin tuna could benefit other species imperiled by the ongoing
oil spill disaster in the gulf.

“An endangered status
for bluefin tuna could mean enhanced protections for all fish and wildlife in
the Gulf,” Kilduff said this week. “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.”

While the petition to
list bluefin tuna and endangered or threatened at this time may be directly
related to the Gulf disaster, environmental groups have long sought protections
through a national and international regulatory process for the highly coveted
species. However, there has been little mutual cooperation between the nations
that target bluefin tuna. To that end, the CBD is hoping the Gulf oil disaster
might be the catalyst for change.

“Bluefin tuna encounter
thousands of deadly hooks while migrating across the Atlantic and now an oil
spill will welcome home the survivors,” said Kilduff. “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.”

News of the petition for
an ESA listing for bluefin tuna trickled out slowly to the recreational fishing
sector in Ocean City, where the species is an integral part of the offshore
sportfishing industry, but already the proposal has raised serious concerns

“While I have not read
the proposal, I am pretty well versed in the problem with bluefin tuna,” said
Ocean City Marlin Club president and charter captain Franky Pettolina. “An ESA
listing would be yet another nail in the coffin of recreational fishing, both
charter and private.”

Pettolina said while he
understands the CBD’s concerns about the dwindling bluefin population in the
north Atlantic, he believes the petition to list the species under the ESA
might be a knee-jerk reaction to the ongoing oil spill crisis. He raised
concern the ESA petition could be a blanket approach to a localized problem.

“The ESA listing is very
far reaching and could cause area closures that would cripple recreational
fishing in our area,” he said. “While I suspect the Center for Biological
Diversity has a noble intention, their efforts would be better spent seeking
closure on the Mediterranean bluefin tuna fishery and look to solve the problem
on a global level rather than attacking the U.S. recreational fishery.”

The timetable for a
potential ESA listing for bluefin tuna or any species is a lengthy one and a
final determination could take months or even years. The National Marine Fisheries
Service (NMFS) will review the petition and initiate a status review within 90
days if it determines the request has merit.

Meanwhile, Center for
Biological Diversity officials have called for an expedited review of the
petition for an ESA listing for bluefin tuna.

“Based on the best
available scientific and commercial data, Atlantic bluefin tuna are rapidly
heading toward extinction,” the petition reads. “The petitioners strongly urge
NMFS and the Secretary to take action to protect the Atlantic bluefin tuna now
before it is too late.”