"You've got to keep a lot of bluefin in the bank in order to get the interest," Block said. But the overly generous commission quotas mean that each year fishing fleets are cutting more deeply into the principal: the breeding population of bluefin. The cumulative effect of annual overfishing throughout the North Atlantic has sent the number of natives plummeting.
Because all the visiting fish return home to spawn in the Mediterranean Sea, their presence does nothing to strengthen the native population. In fact, their numbers may be masking the severity of the decline of the weak stock.
"[It was] only recognized recently, in part because of our work, that we were getting a subsidy from Europe," Block said. "We didn't always know those fish were there, but now we can see it. We know there are two populations making up our western fishery."
Bluefin in the western Atlantic have suffered a 90 percent drop in population since the 1970s, according to commission estimates. In the Mediterranean, the decline is put at about 50 percent. The rate of decline in both fisheries has accelerated in recent years.
William Hogarth, director of the National Marine Fisheries Service, was quoted in a December 2007 Washington Post article as saying that, for the last five years, U.S. fishermen in the western Atlantic have been unable to catch even 15 percent of their allowed quota.
While there are many possible reasons as to why the bluefin have declined so
steeply-ranging from overfishing to climate change-Block thinks that the "subsidy" from
Europe is now being overfished, which is unmasking how bad the situation is for the
|Contact: Louis Bergeron|