Avoid Pacific Bluefin Tuna, Radioactive or Not

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That marine biologists found elevated traces of radioactive cesium in Pacific bluefin tuna is not reason enough to stop eating the fish. That the fish are often caught when they are only 1 or 2 years old and sold in markets and grocery stores before reaching maturity is.

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Pacific bluefin tuna (Thunnus orientalis) is fished unsustainably. In 2010 an international trade ban, which the United States supported, failed to draw the necessary votes to list bluefin tuna (both Pacific and Atlantic) under the protection of CITES Appendix I. The recognition would have listed the fish as threatened with extinction and prohibited international commercial trade. This type of protection is needed from the international community, as without it even the United States continues to show weakness in taking stronger protection measures.

At the time of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species meeting, "the head of the Libyan delegation went on an absolute rampage," reported SeaWeb from the meeting in Doha, Qatar. They opposed the way the strict regulation was written at every word.

The next opportunity for countries to revisit this issue will take place March 3, 2013, in Bangkok. Libya has a chance at this meeting to shake off its former reputation. And I, for one, am damned curious to see whether the national democracy that is promised by the end of this year will be one that embraces new environmental leadership for the region, or whether it will hide behind economic fears in a pursuit to retain dangerously unsustainable methods that, in the end, make no economic sense.

In the meantime, it is critical that the United States government, through the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, fulfill its promise to revisit its decision last year to label Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) as only a species of concern, instead of giving it the graver and more serious "endangered" listing.

"NOAA has committed to revisit this decision by early 2013," the agency reports. That process is now in the works. But as the head of NOAA discusses the state of bluefin tuna and the problems with illegal fishing with the European Parliament in Brussels this week, pirate fishing fleets in the Mediterranean are making a mockery of enforcement measures.

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Other tuna, such as yellowfin and albacore, though not as fatty and expensive, have become icons of better management practices, especially in the Pacific. Hard lines were crossed in making the changes necessary to bring such management practices up to par.

It's time to take bluefin to that level as well, radioactive or not.

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Photo: Tsukiji Market at 5 a.m. A group of buyers walk through alignments of tunas at the world's biggest fish market. Every day more than 2,000 tons of fishes from some 500 different species transit through here. Credit: Valerian Mazataud, Corbis.

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