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To save or savor? It's decision time for Atlantic bluefin tuna
Date:2/18/2008

r Gulf of Mexico stock.

Although the population of the European fishery has not fallen to the same level of devastation as that of the western Atlantic, the situation has worsened in the last few years. With increasing demand sparking the development of a commodity trade in penned bluefin-fish held in the aquatic version of feedlots to grow larger before being sent to market-the annual catch in the Mediterranean has skyrocketed. Quotas set by the commission are often ignored, and estimates by nongovernmental organizations put the actual take as high as 50,000 to 60,000 metric tons per year. Given Block's work showing that Mediterranean fish contribute to the success of the North American fishery, it is clear that excess hauls among European fishermen are directly contributing to the decline in the North American fishery.

Bringing a population back from the brink of collapse is more than just a numbers game. It is critical to have enough surviving animals so that they can spawn in the face of whatever trials nature sends their way-even once humans agree to let them alone. But the surviving population also has to retain enough genetic diversity so its offspring will be successful. If genetic variation drops too low, animals become inbred, which weakens them and reduces their chances of survival. That can send a species down a path to extinction just as surely as continued overfishing will.

A separate genetic study, by John Graves and Jens Carlsson at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, reached the same conclusions as Boustany, Reeb and Block. All the genetic research is backed up by new studies on the chemical composition of otoliths, or ear bones, by Jay Rooker at Texas A&M University. Rooker can tell where a fish has been swimming by the proportion of elemental isotopes, such as oxygen, in the otoliths. That the tuna spawned in the Gulf of Mexico are genetically distinct from the European fish
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Contact: Louis Bergeron
louisb3@stanford.edu
650-725-1944
Stanford University
Source:Eurekalert

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