From pandas to polar bears, animals have served as icons for wildlife conservation. Now a new documentary called The End of the Line has helped the bluefin tuna, an endangered species, swim into the limelight by highlighting the overfishing common in fisheries today. Based on a book by journalist Charles Clover, the film has spurred some retailers to remove bluefin from their menus and stores and even moved some celebrities to pose naked with the fish to advocate conserving them.
The solution, experts say, doesn't necessarily have to entail eschewing tuna altogether. Instead, consumers should stick to skipjack tuna, a more common variety, that has been caught using a method called pole-and-line, which avoids accidentally netting bluefish tuna and other sea life. Most commercial fishing operations that target skipjack use nets, Clover says, but
A growing demand for bluefin tuna, commonly found in sushi and now as endangered as the giant panda, has not only decreased the fish's population, but also increased the number of undersized fish that are harvested, preventing the fish from reaching maturity.
"Bluefin tuna has become the poster boy for the overfishing campaign. It's on the buffers - it's really on the slide down now," Clover says. "There are no large tuna anymore. There were bluefins of 250lb in Japanese fish markets when I went there four years ago - there are none now. A third of the catch is undersize" [BBC News].
"the skipjack run with all these other tuna species, like bigeye and bluefin. The skipjack are close to the surface and the bluefins swim further down, so there is often bluefin bycatch" [BBC News].
The documentary also has netted a variety of celebrities who are speaking out, or stripping down, against overfishing. Charlize Theron, Sting, Alicia Silverstone and others have spoken out against Nobu, an upscale restaurant chain that has kept bluefin tuna on its menu. And British movie star Greta Scacchi is one of those working with acclaimed photographer Ian Rankin to take images of celebrities holding fish for a poster campaign. "We have to put a stop to this free-for-all plundering of the sea," she said.
The publicity has already had concrete effects on retailers and restaurants that sell tuna. Restaurant chain Pret a Manger, for example, has pledged to switch to skipjack tuna later this year, and British grocer Marks and Spencer will
phase out any tuna caught using nets that can catch other sea creatures. The retailer will only use line-caught tuna, that has less by-catch, in its products including the 20,000 tuna sandwiches sold daily [Telegraph].
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Image: flickr / stewart