A wicked bad idear: National Geographic hunts bluefin tuna for entertainment

Wicked Tuna fishers land their catch. Image from LA Times

The contradictions of the reality TV show Wicked Tuna, which follows fishers out of Gloucester, Massachusetts, as they use hook-and-line to catch bluefin tuna, are utterly mind-bending. Normally, I’d be cheering hook-and-line commercial fishers at the top of my lungs – unlike long lines or purse seines, there’s little bycatch – but unfortunately bluefin tuna is the posterfish for overexploitation and international havoc. Estimated to be at 17-33% percent of its 1950 spawning stock biomass, bluefin is being overfished so badly that it won’t recover even under the current “rebuilding quotas.” So I was pretty shocked that National Geographic, ostensibly a conservation organization, will soon air an entire show about killing off this badly damaged population.

Spawning biomass since 1950 of (A) western and (B) eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna (Taylor et al 2011). The dotted line is maximum sustainable yield, below which overfishing is occurring.

Possibly in response to criticism from marine conservationist Carl Safina, National Geographic has stuffed Wicked Tuna‘s webpage with conservation content. There’s interviews with scientists (Safina included), an overview of tuna conservation issues, and a seafood guide that has the unintentionally ironic message of urging consumers to avoid both bluefin tuna and New England cod and halibut. There’s even the astonishing spectacle of Gloucester fishermen stiffly proclaiming how much they love NOAA regulations over the caption: “The Wicked Tuna fishermen talk about the benefits of fishing quotas.” THAT is a sentence that’s rarely been written! Gloucester is famous for its intense dislike of fisheries regulations, periodically hanging scientists and regulators (and themselves) in effigy to protest changes in fisheries management.

The Gloucester fishermen argue that the United States bluefin fishery is tiny and well-managed, and that population is declining because of European overfishing and illegal fishing. This is true. According to Taylor et al. 2011’a bluefin population estimate:

Because of the mixed-stock composition of western Atlantic fisheries, the successful rebuilding of the western population is tied to controlling the much larger fishing mortality rates that occur on the eastern stock. For example, continued high fishing mortality rates in the Mediterranean Sea and eastern Atlantic may compromise rebuilding efforts for the western Atlantic population. The converse, however, is not true. The eastern stock is both much larger and much more concentrated in the Mediterranean Sea. ICCAT could potentially increase the chances of successful western-stock rebuilding if it began to model and consider recovery plans for eastern and western populations jointly rather than independently.

Translation: unless the Europeans get their act together, it doesn’t really matter how careful the Gloucester fishermen are. The western population of bluefin off the east coast of the US is dependent on the eastern population off the west coast of Europe.

Bluefin lined up in a Japanese fish market. Image via GreenProphet.com

So, then, what is my problem with Wicked Tuna? It’s this: by glamorizing the process of catching bluefin, I fear that Wicked Tuna will drive up consumer demand, leading to even more overfishing and driving the bluefin closer to functional extinction. The popularity of The Deadliest Catch drove up the American market demand for king crab – but since Alaska king crab is a well-managed fishery, this was good for the crab fishers without impacting the sustainability of the fishery. In contrast, the international market for bluefin is about as far from well-managed as you can get. According to Pew Environment Group, 141% more tuna was sold in 2010 than was even allowed to be caught under the current quota, pointing to rampant overfishing. Even this estimate doesn’t account for the enormous black market in eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna. Under this poor management, an increased demand for tuna will increase prices, leading to more and more overfishing for the last remaining large tuna. This may already be happening – in January, a bluefin tuna auctioned in Japan sold for $736,000, or $1,238 per pound.

This mess isn’t the Gloucester fishers’ fault. They are following the law. My question is for National Geographic, an organization that purports to have a conservation message. If a reality show combines the hunting of a severely depleted species (possibly increasing demand for its meat) with a conservation message –  does that make it ok? National Geographic thinks so:

National Geographic Society executive vice-president for mission programs Terry Garcia says he hopes that the National Geographic Channel’s new reality series about bluefin fishermen, Wicked Tuna, will raise awareness of the issues surrounding the bluefin’s prospects for survival. “Educating and illuminating this issue for the public is something we need to do,” he explains. “It hasn’t been, up to this point. I was in favor of doing this show if we coupled it with a solid [conservation] message about what’s been going on with the bluefin… this is a complicated issue.”….

Unlike in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean, where there have been widespread allegations of illegal fishing, the U.S. fishing industry is “the best in the world” in legal compliance, according to the National Geographic Society’s Garcia, a former NOAA staffer who participated in ICCAT negotiations on bluefin conservation in the 1990s. “But that doesn’t change the essential fact, which is that bluefin stocks are overfished.  You can go back and forth on how we got here, but with bluefin at such low abundance levels, the real question is, what do you do about that?”

Indeed. What do we do about that? Will Wicked Tuna get people excited about hard choices in high seas fisheries regulation, or just make them hungry for some bluefin sushi? My cynical side says that the latter – wanting to identify with the Wicked Tuna fishers by partaking of their catch – is far more likely than the former. And since most people and restaurants don’t know where their fish comes from, the bluefin they eat could easily come from from Spain (one of the worst fisheries offenders), not Gloucester, therefore contributing to the end of the bluefin.

Still, maybe I’m too pessimistic. Maybe people will identify with the Wicked Tuna fishers by cultivating Massachusetts accents (oh, please, let people in SoCal start saying “wicked ahsome” – I’d feel so much less alone!) and advocating for better cross-Atlantic cooperation in bluefin fisheries regulation and a crackdown on illegal fishing. Maybe Wicked Tuna will shine such a spotlight on the plight of international fisheries management that this magnificent fish – and fishers who star in Wicked Tuna – will find a way to survive. We’ll see.

[UPDATE: I wrote a followup post based on the reactions to this one. Check it out.]

77 Replies to “A wicked bad idear: National Geographic hunts bluefin tuna for entertainment”

  1. Miriam,

    I share your concern, and your cynicism. As I’ve suggested to various Gloucester fisherman in the comments here, everyone will see the pictures, but very few people will really hear the narration — or bother to read the website.

    Consider what is my favorite example of how pictures overwhelm words. It’s from Lesley Stahl of CBS News:

    Stahl recalled one of her most famous stories for “60 Minutes” — an expose on the 1984 Reagan re-election campaign that aired the night before the election. In a blitz of images showing a benevolent Reagan appearing at nursing home openings and hospitals, Stahl narrated that Reagan had, in fact, cut the budget for such projects.

    Stahl feared the backlash of the White House the next day; instead, phone calls of praise began to pour in from Reagan’s administration thanking her for the “positive” newscast and free advertising the night before. Stahl was befuddled. Her broadcast was obviously meant to question Reagan’s budget cuts. It was then that she was told a stark reality that the news media had not been aware of before: “No one heard what you had to say in that piece,” Reagan’s staffer told her. “They just saw the pictures.”

    It was then that Stahl realized the pure power of pictures. “Pictures drowned out my words,” she said. “Pictures are emotional and passionate and are capable of influencing viewers much more than mere words. We form judgments about what we see, and our leaders are aware of this. Visual images are much more powerful and remain with us longer.”

    {from: http://riley.furman.edu/riley/series/women-and-politics-series/2004-lesley-stahl }

    That’s why I think Wicked Tuna won’t – and can’t — deliver any subtle messages about sustainable fishing practices in Gloucester. If the program is filled with fisherman killing an endangered species, that’s pretty much the only message that will hit home — despite all the good intentions of fishermen in Gloucester & of conservationists like Carl Safina.

  2. “So I was pretty shocked that National Geographic, ostensibly a conservation organization, will soon air an entire show about killing off this badly damaged population.”

    Nat Geo TV and Nat Geo Magazine share about as much intellectual DNA as dinoflagellates and humans. Basically they share the hallowed name and not much else.

    Nat Geo TV is also filled to the rafters with ex Discovery Network folks so you understand much of the programming choices these days.

    If you want to see an actual change in Nat Geo programming, take it to Nat Geo Society and place their step child’s list of transgressions at the feet of the Society. Frankly with the addition/infestation of RM and his media Foxy-ness to the mix I fear the time for change is long past.

    Greenwashing is a tradition of Shark Week, not surprised to see it on this programming as well.

  3. Wow, however not really surprising, NAT GEO hiding behind the dollar sign while purporting to be conservation minded. There are so many species in trouble that it is hard to comtemplate anymore. Sharks, Swordfish, Tuna, Sawfish, Cod, Grouper, Snapper, while we just continue feeding down the chain. You know a guy told us over 60 years ago what happens when you remove top predators from an ecosystem, his name was Aldo Leopold, man, we knew then, we just did not listen, and we are still not listening, look in the mirror and see the enemy!

  4. I’m absolutely disgusted by this idea, my how National Geographic has fallen. I wrote them a letter to them expressing my disgust at the fact that they’re totally comfortable glorifying an industry that knowingly profits off the lives of endangered species. Hope they enjoy the re-runs 10 years from now when the fish is extinct….wow!

  5. PS: I can tell you that before I go eat at a seafood restaurant, I call to see if they have Blue Fin Tuna or Chilean Sea Bass on the menu. If they do, I don’t go there. This is one small thing I do and I also tell them that I won’t be dining there for those reasons.

  6. I fish for Tuna out of Gloucester on a commercial boat and recreationally. Commercial boats are only allowed to keep Fish over 82″ which is a large fish we are not out there keeping small fish. There have been years when we would fish all year spending thousands of dollars and not catch one fish that could be sold. We always let the small ones go back in the water (the fines are so steep believe me you dont want to get caught with a small fish). Most fishermen do want quotas if they will help but Tuna are highly migratory and cross over to European waters where they are long lined and purseinedand they keep everything from footballs to giants and they get rich over it. Locking down mass bay guys and saying you cant catch these fish because they are declining does not make any sense because a large portion of the Atlantic tuna migrate to Europe and then get ravaged by over fishing no quotas and no oversight!! How can you blame a guy who catches 2 giant tuna a year. When You have Boats fishing the same fish just at a different time of year on the other side of the Atlantic and they Keep HUNDREDS??

  7. What do you expect from Rupert Murdoch?..owner of National Geographic Channel,and Fox.. Conservation??

  8. Dave H I agree with you . I was also involved in commercial fishing of Mozambique coast for few years. We also was very restricted in what we may keep and sell . Yet the long liners would come and set their lines and catch everything . No problem .

  9. Hi Dave,

    Thanks for commenting. If you read what I said above, you’ll see that I agree with you that a) the MA pole-caught bluefin fishery is well regulated and responsible and b) the European fishery is so poorly regulated that it drags the entire population down with it – even if there was no fishing at all off MA the bluefin would still be going commercially extinct. However, my point is that people don’t know where their fish comes from, and because of that Wicked Tuna will drive up demand for those terribly managed European fish instead what should be happening – driving up prices for the responsibly caught MA fish.

  10. I don’t pay much attention to anything beyond the National Geographic brand name, and I imagine most people pay even less. Hopefully the Society will start to care that its good name is being destroyed by the Channel? Hopefully?

    And good point that this kind of programming is an offshoot of Shark Week and its ilk.

  11. Miriam…thank you for a very well written article. I just saw the commercial on Nat Geo for the new show and decided to do some research. I did not realize that the Blue Fin was even close to being endangered. I agree that the exploitation of this is, well, disgusting for any channel to do. I am thirty years old, and I can remember when I was a child and the only ‘endangered’ species we were told about were bald eagles and a few different mammals from Africa. Currently there seem to be SO many more. The overpopulation of the world (creating the need for food), the amount of food we waste, and the depletion of resources and land that all contribute to the decline of these beautiful creatures is so sad.

  12. The thing about that one high priced fish happens every January 1 the business’s over there simply believe the buying the first fish of the year is good luck . I understand your need to sensationalize this point to profit from it . The reality is the average price is about 9 bucks a pound . Just thought I would add a bit off truth to the discussion .

  13. If the tuna is so migratory it will be hard to save then tuna without help from the European countries participation. The sword fish are being fished as well. The sword fish we are now eating are the immature ones and that is in our fishing grounds. What a shame

  14. Evelyn, check your facts. Swordfish stocks are considered rebuilt, and if anything under fished in the US. It’s so easy for you people to demand the end of any particular seafood harvest without considering the consequences. If tuna are caught and managed responsibly in the US then whats the problem. Low stock assessments in the future will result in lower quotas for US fishermen. If we were foolish enough to give up our interest in the fishery, we would also give up our rights to managing the fishery. Any quota we decide to leave on the table is given to other countries that are likely to be fishing less responsibly. If the US can remain active in the international management of tuna, we can continue to put pressure on other countries to get their act together. Progress is being made. And about the ” 700,000.00$$$” fish in Japan, give me a break! 30 seconds of research will reveal this as a once a year publicity stunt by the fish buyers in Japan. The buyer gets word wide press attention for this stunt.

  15. Ahhh the swordfish have been designated fully rebuilt since 2003 . What rock have you been living under . The truth about swordfish is a real tragedy . Roughly 90 % of the global harvest of swordfish is consumed in the united states yet less than 10% is harvested by US fishermen . Misleading articles such as this one are the primary cause . The us fishers leave 80% of the US allocation in the water not by choice but over zealous regulation brought on by misleading the public this this woman does . But hey some people support their families by feeding the nation . Others like the author line their pockets with money by kicking working families in the teeth and will say anything to make a buck

  16. Yes, the linked article makes this clear. While I agree this particular fish was an outlier, the economic fact that decreased supply leads to increased prices is simple supply and demand. Also, for a good comparison of bluefin prices, you have to look just at wild-caught fresh bluefin, not lump fresh, frozen, and farmed bluefin tuna prices all together.

    To look at the actual data on this, I tried hard to find records of wild bluefin tuna prices, but the recent explosion of bluefish feeding pen operations (especially off the west coast Mexico) confused the issue, and I was unable to separate out wild tuna prices. If you know of data on this, please do let me know.

  17. Wilson – I’m not sure if you’re directing your name-calling at me, but I will respond to the issues in your comment (and in Charlie and Evelyn’s comment) anyway. Yes, swordfish is considered rebuilt – thanks in part to a huge effort from the Give Swordfish A Break! campaign that protected immature swordfish so they had time to grow up and become delicious big swordfish.

    I am 100% in favor of people buying US seafood – our regulations have their issues, but are far better than those in much of the world. As I said in the post above, a major issue is that most consumer don’t know and/or don’t care where their seafood comes from. Raising awareness of this is something that conservationists and fishers can work together to achieve.

  18. Dave H, the minimum size is 73″ for commercial fish, hope that was a typo.

    Brandi, you say bluefin are endangered, your very much wrong.

  19. Miriam, 9 bucks a pound for WILD CAUGHT tuna would be the best case scenario for US fisherman in recent years. A close look at actual prices to the boats would likely show a slightly lower number. How can you expect actual fishermen to work with you or give you any credit when you insist on using a “Outlier” to shock and mislead the general public? People like Evelyn get all their information from websites like this and they assume that it is legit. Your about 1230.00$ a pound off on the one freak fish you chose for an example, but most people will never know that. Have you ever been out on the ocean, or seen a bluefin tuna????

  20. A few points:
    If Blue Fin tuna are endangered, and this show will make tuna fishermen look bad……what possible objection could you have to the show? It seems that it would help your “cause”.

    As mentioned by some commenters above, the U.S. fishery is highly regulated. One of the regulations is a quota. The quota is set with biomass sustainability in mind; once met, the category in question is shut down. So the assertion that the fish will keep getting sold is spurious.

    The over-exploitation of Blue Fin tuna is directly related to overfishing in Europe and North Africa, to lay the blame at the feet of American fishermen is disingenous at best, and at worst verges on libel. Again, the U.S. tuna fleet has a small quota (in comparison with the European and North African fishermen, who largely ignore theirs) which is closed within a day or two of being filled. The U.S. fleet fishes under rigorous and very expensive safety regulations. Although there are many thousands of fish under 73+ inches, those greater than that (in order to meet the legal requirement for sale) are much scarcer. It is not an easy or lucrative job, with boat owners receiving an average of $9 per pound, and fishing out of boats loaded with expensive state-of-the-art radars, sonars, GPSs, liferafts, survival suits, satellite phones, and more. The fisherman who do this choose to engage in this fishery, none of them are victims. It helps no one when the most highly regulated fishermen in the world, operating under strict catch limit quotas, are made to look as if they are the ones causing the tuna to disappear. Your article has some “wicked bad” elements…..more so than the tuna fishermen it depicts.

    In attempting to compare the U.S. King Crab and tuna fisheries, you imply that since the King Crab fishery is well-regulated, that the U.S. tuna fishery *isn’t*. I am not saying it was your intent, but the inference is obvious, and my eyes, not responsible journalism.

    As for the black market Blue Fin………I am not aware of any substantial American market for Blue Fin tuna. The overwhelming majority of American-caught Blue Fin is sold at the Tokyo auction. It is not hard at all to find the prices, and I don’t believe that farmed tuna is sold there.

    You cite the Pew Foundation as a source. I question their own impartiality where any fishery is concerned. Pew has been behind NOAA’s full-court press for Catch Shares, or Individual Transferable Quotas. They are a very good way to practice conservation of a fishery…….with one drawback: The “shares” can be bought and sold, and tend to concentrate the resource in the hands of large corporations and wealthy individual fishermen; a Privatization of a traditionally wide-open resource which those who make their living from it love and cherish-The Sea!

    My reaction to this article is that it sensationalizes the issue while posing no solutions. I don’t dispute your right to write it, but I have an issue with what is in essence an Op-Ed piece being treated as news.

  21. I think the program will help to show how US fishermen have been playing by the rules and the other countries have overfished and abused ICCAT quotas.
    Another thing that would help to rebuild the bluefin fishery would be to not allow the taking of fish under 73″ fishing for the smaller fish is allowed by our government and recreational fishermen with a anglers permit are allow to take fish.Its great for the recreational and charter boat fishermen but not so good if you want to have these smaller fish grow and reproduce.

  22. Name calling coming from the person whom makes fun of the way people talk due to the facts of culture . The accents are not those of someone like yourself and your attitude that anyone who has not had the Ed u ma cation. You have ate less than . And of course in a much lower tax bracket than the” pinkies up club ” in socali.

    I’ll file that under the pot calling the kettle black

  23. Hi, editor here. Sorry to step in but you are pretty off base. Just a point of fact: Miriam is from that area of the world and was educated and has worked where people talk like that. If you don’t know someone why bother with the insults? Please stay on topic.

    Thanks, Kevin

  24. Well done Miriam,
    I have also been dismayed by the Nat Geo channel appearing to glorify crime and drugs. Bluefin tuna is essentially a rescued and rebuilt fishery and given the current lack of consistent international regulations and enforcement, there is little likelihood the rebuilt population will remain resilient for long. I would be interested to see what happens to the immediate market for tuna in areas where the show airs to see if it had a positive or negative effect on demand and hence either harvest or price, or both.


  25. MIRIAM, Do you know any fishermen from Gloucester? Have you attended any of the fisheries meetings in the Northeast? Have you been following the developments in the ground fish regulations over the past 15 years? Were you around to see the unfair, unconstitutional targeting of com. fishermen when the orders were given to intimidate us. Did you flinch when many law abiding, hard working fisherman were chopped off at the knees in the aftermath of Catch ShARES? Are you as unhappy with the rule makers in the NE as we are? Catch shares are doing more damage to our fishery in 2 years than you would even believe. When you decide to crap on the Gloucester fishermen for protesting unfair, illogical, and illegal management policies, you insult us. Take a look at the results of the recent ground fish management policies and then comment on the protests that you refer to. Your statements about Gloucester fishermen’s reactions to fisheries management would lead your followers to believe that we are only interested in killing all the fish. Most of us, do in fact, want to see sustainable fisheries for any and all species that we fish for. WE WANT HEALTHY FISHERIES and the right to harvest the stocks. Yes, there were legal, organized protests during some very controversial times, but isn’t that our right. Try writing some facts for a change, and leave out your snide remarks. I think the general public deserves that much.

  26. Sounds like a lot of dissent in the comment thread comes from people who didn’t even bother to read Miriam’s post. A shame, since Miriam is defending Gloucester fishermen while being critical of National Geographic.

    But I guess some people are just recreational outrage-feigners.

  27. Southern Fried, I got the impression that Miriam doubted the sincerity of the fishermen supporting catch limits on tuna. Did I misread that? Is it too hard to believe that we might want to protect a resource that we rely on? Talk more, but I need to get back to work on Miriam’s effigy.

  28. If you have a link to the actual prices paid the boats, please post it. I could not find this information.

    Although ad hominem attacks on me are irrelevant to the price of tuna in Japan (man, I’ve been waiting ALL MY LIFE to type that and I didn’t even know it!), I spend 1-2 months per year at sea, and have done a bunch of tuna fishing for fun while out in the Pacific. It’s mostly albacore where I work, though we’ve also gotten bigeye and yellowfin. Pacific bluefin are very rare compared to these other types of tuna, though I did saw one caught once.

  29. From your post above: “Others like the author line their pockets with money by kicking working families in the teeth and will say anything to make a buck”

  30. Steve,

    I am not sure how you read criticism of US bluefin fisheries from sentences like this: “The Gloucester fishermen argue that the United States bluefin fishery is tiny and well-managed, and that population is declining because of European overfishing and illegal fishing. This is true…This mess isn’t the Gloucester fishers’ fault. They are following the law.”

    According to NOAA, which I liked to above, only half of American bluefin is exported to Japan. If it is not hard to find prices, please post a link.

  31. Again, not that ad hominem attacks on me are relevant, but I grew up in southern New Hampshire with all the “wicked” and “idears” that that entails. My grandparents were from Lynn (MA) and my sister lives near Gloucester. I care deeply about New England – especially her oceans and fisheries – and can’t wait to move back. Anyway, if I really wanted to throw the cultural insults, I’d go for the classic NH favorite “Masshole.” (I kid, I kid).

    That said, my comment policy that a) Comments critical of the content of my posts are welcome but b) contents that contain only personal insults will be deleted without warning. Please take note.

  32. As I said above, I am not sure how how you are getting criticism of Gloucester fishermen from sentences in my post like this: “The Gloucester fishermen argue that the United States bluefin fishery is tiny and well-managed, and that population is declining because of European overfishing and illegal fishing. This is true…This mess isn’t the Gloucester fishers’ fault. They are following the law.”

    Also as I said above, while personal attacks on me are not relevant, I am originally from NH and care deeply about New England oceans and fisheries.

  33. I don’t think it’s a controversial statement to say that fishermen don’t tend to love catch limits or regulation. I read the Gloucester Times too!

    Let me know when you hang my effigy – I’ll send my sister over to get photos!

  34. Possibly in response to criticism from marine conservationist Carl Safina, National Geographic has stuffed Wicked Tuna‘s webpage with conservation content. There’s interviews with scientists (Safina included), an overview of tuna conservation issues, and a seafood guide that has the unintentionally ironic message of urging consumers to avoid both bluefin tuna and New England cod and halibut. There’s even the astonishing spectacle of Gloucester fishermen stiffly proclaiming how much they love NOAA regulations over the caption: “The Wicked Tuna fishermen talk about the benefits of fishing quotas.” THAT is a sentence that’s rarely been written! Gloucester is famous for its intense dislike of fisheries regulations, periodically hanging scientists and regulators (and themselves) in effigy to protest changes in fisheries management.

    The Gloucester fishermen argue that the United States bluefin fishery is tiny and well-managed, and that population is declining because of European overfishing and illegal fishing. This is true. According to Taylor et al. 2011′a bluefin population estimate:

    By using this example you are disparaging the fishermen who protest what they believe to be unfair regulations involving the new England groundfish fishery . No such protests have occurred in regards to Atlantic bluefin tuna the TOPIC of the show . I can say I know most of the families who partictiped in the protests a greatany from new Hampshire . These are fishermen who were instrumental in creating the regulation to protect bluefin tuna . They worked within the system for over a decade to participate in the regulatory process for groundfish .only to be stabbed in the back by special interests and ENGOs such as EDF (comparing what’s going on in the groundfish industry to the regulations regarding tuna . Is like comparing apples to oranges they are both fruit but the similarities end there .it does however show your lack of research regularding two disttinc issues . And does suggest a lack of kinship for the fishermen in the area ,
    Would it be less sensational if you left the comparison out ? Then of Clyde citing the protests themselves as a wrong thing . I’m sorry but in this country it’s your constitutional duty not right to speak out , but of course they way you put the commet out there it plays like your not one fisherman has ever cared for the resource he impacts .it’s been my experience nothing could be further from the truth .i

  35. You’ve touched a nerve with this posting!! There’s another awful programme on one of the networks that should know better called something like “Swords – lives on the Line” about the catching of broadbill swordfish in the Atlantic. From what I’ve read it should be called “Swords – species on the line” !!! :-(

  36. Well, we’re getting rather far afield from whether National Geographic should air Wicked Tuna or not, but I am intrigued. Most of the fisheries fights I’ve followed have been groundfish or swordfish, and increased regulation in these fisheries had very few advocates in the fishing community. Please tell me about how the bluefin regulation happened, and how these NH fishermen were instrumental in creating it.

  37. Andrew…..another uneducated post. Why don’t you do a little research on swordfish stocks. They are healthy. Where did you “read” otherwise?

  38. Bored with this my friend
    Co operative research with science working with fishermen is well documented with any species for anyone who has google . At least these differing views kept this thread from becoming the usual Eco chamber of the authors of various pieces complementing eachother on like minded political views . Time to watch FOX :-)

  39. I’m sorry that supporting your own claims bores you. I did look for a history of New England bluefin management on Google but didn’t find anything. If you ever get un-bored and want to support your own arguments, drop me a line.

  40. Miriam, I will try and find the data I worked with when I worked with a panel of scientists from Mexico and the US to evaluate the Ensenada area tuna ranching operation sustainability a few ears ago. Wholesale prices at that point where in the $35-$40/kg range for all BFT, I never found public accessible stats for wholesale prices of BFT broken down by source. Restaurant and supermarket prices at the time (2006-2007ish) closer to $380-$400/kg. The fact that fisherman only get $9/lb on the dock ($~20/kg) and Ensenada tuna ranchers got $18/kg (4 years ago) is pretty sad. It means that the folks that do the lions share of the risk and work get only ~5% of the financial reward.

  41. Steve, I can post the stats for sales of bluefin tuna sold from ranched/farmed tuna both from the Atlantic and Mexico (which are technically a different species but sold as bluefin tuna in Japan) but from the Mediterranean as of 2008 over 80% of the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna exported to Japan were from ranch operations, not wild caught. Tuna ranches are the predominant supplier of blue fin tunas (North Pacific, South Pacific and Atlantic) to Tsujiki. You really want to clean up? Figure out how to do complete life-cycle Atlantic Blue Fin Tuna ranching profitably, preferably inshore.

  42. Miriam, the point is this: You make reference to the protests in Gloucester ( hanging of effigies, opposition to management) but fail to mention that this is unrelated to TUNA regs. The protests you refer to were a result of some highly controversial management decisions in the MULTI SPECIES FISHERY. You scoff at the idea that the tuna fishermen interviewed for the tv show might actually support the conservation of the tuna stock. You have ZERO evidence to support that accusation, and I find it disturbing and irresponsible to blog this BS for people to accept as gospel. What say you about that?

  43. Andrew, if you learned from reliable sources that swordfish stocks were healthy and the com. fishery was fishing well within the limits of sustainability, would you delete this post? There are plenty of REAL issues in our fisheries that you could bitch about, but in order to discover them you might actually have to educate your self.

  44. BTW, where does tuna juveniles comes from in the case of ranching? wild catches or rearing?

    It makes a big difference on the impact of the pratice.

  45. Yes, sorry I was not clear. Tuna Ranching in Mediterranean, Australia and Mexico is what Ottolenghi termed Capture Based Tuna Aquaculture. The ranches start with catching juvenile schools in purse seine nets. These are towed back to protected coastal areas in “tow pens” at a speed of ~1knot. Some tow pens travel 50-100km, a journey that can take over a week. They are transferred to grow out cages in protected bays and coastal areas where they are grown/fattened up for up to 4-9months.

    Researchers at Kinki Uiversity in Japan have completed the life cycle of Pacific Bluefin Tuna and successfully raised them from eggs to adults that have now reproduced for several years. Last I checked they had 7 year old adults (the first ones raised) that had successfully bred for 3 years. This is a small operation though – only a few dozen adult animals. I have some pictures from the operation (including absolutely adorable 3″ long BFT) I can try and get permissions to share.

    There was a similar attempt in Australia by a commercial operation to complete the life cycle of the Southern Bluefin Tuna and create a commercially viable hatchery for a closed cycle (no captured animals beyond the initial gravid females) aquaculture operation. I never heard if they had success. Similar attempts hav been underway to complete the cycle of Atlantic Bluefin, I believe in Spain with partnerships from Japanese companies, but I have not heard of any success yet.

  46. While you are right that source for the animals makes a difference, the ecological impact of ranching operations is far greater than just the tuna. The biggest impacts of ranching are actually the feed and the local ecological impacts of having ~1000 peak predators concentrated into a 40m diameter pen and feeding them ~12 kilograms of fresh sardines or mackerel (or similar) for every kilogram of tuna. Just as an example when the Ensenada ranching operations were smaller there were ~4,000MT of tuna a year captured and grown/fattened by ~2,500MT, but it required in ~30,000MT of fresh sardines to do it. The ranchers are actually pretty good and minimizing waste of feed fish. Waste of feed fish increases the expenses in multiple ways (cost of fish wasted, increased maintenance of nets, increasing damage to nets by scavengers and predators outside the nets etc..), so they have gotten pretty good at feeding efficiently.

  47. I have fished commercially for tuna since the early 90’s around cape cod, and all signs seem to point to a recovery in bluefin stocks. I believe the main problem we face is overfishing on herring and other forage species. when we have bait on our historical fishing grounds, we see plenty of tuna. when herring are in short supply, so are the tuna.
    The numbers of shorts {fish under 73″} we have seen in the last few years shows great promise for the future of the fishery. That along with strict regulations and quotas will make sure this great fish will be around for many generations.
    I applaud Nat Geo for showing their viewers a truly special fishery with conservation minded participents, who have been hurt in recent years by many un-founded attacks by environmental groups. We all need to work together and educate the public about this sustainable fishery, which we have worked so hard to maintain.

  48. Another one on this topic who gets it.

    We (US) are not the problem but part of the solution. Stop attacking the US fishermen and start attacking the Eastern Atlantic and the Med. If they would adopt our fishing methods and enforce the laws there would be bluefins for generations to come. We don’t harvest little fish, which allows them to spawn many times first, and we don’t exceed our very small allocated enforced quota which is only about 2 percent of the yearly world quota. You are going after the wrong people.

    If Nat Geo did a tuna show in the Eastern Atlantic and the Med. you would applaud our fishing methods here in the US.

  49. mmon sense..if the Euro’s were required to fish rod & reel with the same compliance of the US east coast US – BFT would have a chance to make a come back. The equipment is expensive and so are the fines surrounding for non-compliance..not only are there size and quantity restrictions for these Gloucester guys..if they are commercial and found to be fishing without a suitable life raft and EPIRB on board they face a $10,000 fine. Also… there’s no way your going to fishing rod & reel from a purse sein vessel. The answer to helping this fishery is controlling profit..You may see $10,000 had for a BFT but this is in no way a profitable venture for Gloucester fishermen. In the end most of them are lucky if the catch pays for dockage and fuel. Ask them.

  50. In my opinion, the concept of a complete ban on fishing for Blue fin Tuna is an extreme view. Think about it folks. Why do these groups want a complete moratorium? It shows a complete lack of willingness to cooperate with with fishermen in law abiding countries. This is typical and it is how these people operate. One myopic view is put forward in a massively advertised and publicized campaign. Those of us with alternative suggestions, yet who lack the massive financing, are unable to be heard above the din of disinformation. This TV series will bring much needed publicity to the Blue fin Tuna debate. It will allow the average person to see what real giant fishing is like. After that, if they are interested they can do their own research on the issue and form an opinion based on reality, not on propaganda.

    Please, please, please do some of your own research on the matter. For starters, try googling tuna related searches pertaining to ACTUAL countries that over-fish Blue fin Tuna. Countries like Croatia, Italy, Malta, Cyprus, Greece, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey. Here in the US on the other hand, Tuna fishermen OBEY the laws.

    I understand that you want to do the right thing. You want to be on the side of what is good and true. Well, this may blow your mind, but a moratorium is just one possible solution. It is not the ONLY solution. Imagine if you will, that fishermen, commercial guys who are working to feed their family and also recreational fishermen who obey and respect sensible limits also want to be on the side of what is good and what is true. Do you think all tuna fishermen are unethical? Immoral? Evil perhaps? I suggest that they are not. They are people like you and I with a wide range of values and ethics. But people don’t always agree. That is to be expected. But, I have to say, this idea of a complete ban on Tuna fishing is an extreme view point. Thank you national geographic for bringing this series to us so that free thinking people will be encouraged to form their own opinion about Blue Fin Tuna fishing in Gloucester Massachusetts.

  51. I have no problem with this program. I accept NatGeo’s statement about presenting the show with a clear nod to a conservation message. And, contrary to suggestion, the program does not appear to be a “glamorization” Blue Fin Tuna fishing. Rather, it appears to be a matter-of-fact presentation of real life fishermen. To the extent that reality TV has value, I believe it is found in such presentations (as opposed to most of the contrived nonsense we see from reality TV.) I’ve only seen the first episode so far, but I found it engaging. I’m interested in knowing what happens to these people during their short fishing season. I know people fish for tuna, and I think it is interesting to see it up-close. This show doesn’t change how I feel about a dwindling Blue Fin population. And I can’t see how it would have any negative effect on conservation. I’ll give it another watch.

  52. Thanks for posting facts and pointing out the consequences of those facts. Regardless of other’s opinion(s) or online bullying attempts, you are right to be concerned that this show will increase demand for bluefin. It seems to me that if the fishers in New England have a lot of energy to post online, they would be better served to use their energy to help to devise a way to put pressure on the European nations for better fishing policy. The truth is, we American’s need to work this out together and need to work it out quickly so that we (i.e. the scientists and fishers) have our interests protected in this global economy. Although the future prospect for bluefin’s looks bleak in 2012, American ingenuity should never be underestimated. Thanks for starting a dialogue, albeit that some choose to make it inappropriately divisive at the moment.

  53. The headline shows exactly where it’s going. “National Geographic Kills Blue fin Tuna for Entertainment” Nat Geo isn’t killing anything! As far as the real “killers” they are just making a living (barely) the same way for about 200 years, one fish at a time. Blame Japan for the killing, paying the rediculus price of $ 18.00 or higher per pound. These fisherman are mortgaged to the hilt on these boats, many of these are upwards of $500,000.00 and fuel, bait, insurance are highest ever. So, all who are negative about this, I’m pretty sure your the same folks who oppose drilling in the ANWAR. Which is like a postage stamp size,compared to the rest of Alaska. Guess you’re enjoying these high gas prices. My bad you must be driving wind powered cars, because I’m sure hearing a lot of liberal hot air !

  54. All comments by first-time commenters go to moderation before they are posted. We allow most non-spam comments through (as should be obvious had you read the other comments on this post), but comments containing personal insults will be deleted without warning, unless I find them entertaining. See above for some nice examples.

  55. Having worked as a fisherman for several years myself I share your concerns, but think that many of the problems you outline about the poor management of fish stocks may in fact benefit from being brought into the limelight. People don’t urge their leaders to do something about things they are ignorant of. Time will tell whether this show proves to have a positive or negative influence on long term Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks. In the interim it will be great entertainment.

  56. Hi All
    Personally I love the show – great fun seeing “proper fishing”
    Miriam if you seriously think these fisherman are depleting bluefin stocks one fish at a time I’d guess you’ve been in the So Cal sun too long or as one previous poster suggested you’re “professionally outraged ”
    I’ve just returned from business in the Canary Islands and witnessed the size and numbers of the tuna boats (actually ships) from a variety of european/african nations. If you want to be outraged perhaps you should vent your spleen in that direction. Who knows, you could fly over in a balloon powered by all that liberal hot air. TTFN

  57. What a hearty bunch and well done brings not only memories back of a simple time but a tear to the eyes of all thos lost at sea -This is true – I grew up in Laneville Mass 1958-1968 and the fisherman, lobsterman, claming, in those days both lanes cove and out of Gloucester what a bunch! I recall the 1960’s George Morey would throw a net right off the breakwall from lanes cove, bring in all kinds of fish in those days in a dory…and in winter he would seel christmas trees brought in on a flatbed Not to mention we pulled in a bunch from the breakwall. Look at all the fighting in sea of Japan-China sea over fishing and countries encroaching in other’s terriorial waters I will say I love the show and brings back many great memories of the hard work and effort even more so today…By the way we pulled lobster pots by hand then over a pulley…Maybe that’s why I got two blown disks now at 57 ha ha! And Dave Marciarno reminds me of somebody I grew up with!!

    God Bless you all guys, gals, and stays stong
    Dave M55

  58. The Gloucester fisherman and respect of sea well said…and very hard to make a living and feed family when come back empty… What part of the Pacific were you talking about working out of? My military service bought me this way – many years…South Korea, Japan-Oki and mainland Yokota, Guam, Philipines.
    Have a happy holiday season to all be safe!

  59. “The contradictions of the Reality TV show Wicked Tuna… are uterrly mind-bending.” I have to not only disagree but after reading the article and the comments that have followed go ahead and say that if anything, you are contradicting yourself. Look at the title of your article, it speaks for itself. Then you go on to support Gloucester in a minor part of the article as well as the comments section. The title and article overall certainly have a negative spin on a show that did go above and beyond to exploit the negative effects of overfishing and fish populations.

  60. Dave, I agree with what you say in that it is wrong to lump all fishermen together (the ones who fish conservatively and those who do not). My aunt was a commercial fisher for many years and use to speak on this at great length…frustrating in that many species migrate and then are exploited in unregulated areas. However, I don’t think the author was focused on this aspect of it, and I also understand their point of view.

    The message of declining tuna populations is still not reaching as it should (evidenced by their inclusion on various menus in restaurants all across the country). So to follow tuna fishermen and glorify the catch does sort of undermine the idea that this is a species that is in grave danger. I liken it to having a big game series that goes out and hunts elephants for ivory. Maybe that show would emphasize that it’s only being done under extreme regulation and in areas where the population is healthy…but people would then get the idea that it’s perhaps o.k. to buy that ivory necklace they see in a window shop. One reason conservation efforts are being thwarted is demand. And if even a small percentage see this show and think it’s o.k. to buy tuna (and perhaps in their minds support the television “heroes” they see on the telly), then it’s another blow to the overall conservation effort.

    We can’t make other countries do as we say. However, if we don’t create a demand for the product (of which the US is a large consumer), then that would directly help efforts. There are many, many types of fishermen who go after other sustainable catches. I just don’t see why NatGeo felt the need to focus on this particular type.

  61. It truly is a shame that this is the demise of the Bluefin Tuna and meny other pelagic fishes.

  62. when i was watching “wicked tuna” on nat. geo, (it was the “shark attack” episode). it clearly looked that when the FV Christina caught their tuna and went to measure it, the one crew member clearly wrapped the end of the tape measure back around and under the tail of the fish…then it measured only 74 inches (despite it clearly more than wrapped back under the fish tail). what is the limit for where they are fishing cause it looked like he added anywhere from 3-4 inches to is supposed measured length. this was about 75% through the episode.

  63. How can you say wicked tuna is hurting the fishery?? it is showing how tuna fisherman in america (my self included) are able to maintain a fishery and still provide employment for thousands of fisherman, who respect the quotas with a passion, and work their tails off day in and day out to make a living. Also, you point on increasing the demand for tuna is invalid. Bluefin tunas above 73 inches are almost always sold on the international market to japan, for high grade sushi use. Sushi is a part of their culture, and this will not change.In the U.S we do not eat bluefins unless you go out and catch it yourself (which is no easy feat). The tuna we eat out of the can are albracore and skipjack tunas, much smaller, and grossly abundant fishes. And if you buy a tuna steak at a fancy restraunt, chances are it is a yellowfin tuna, who are not is critical shape compaired to bluefin tunas. In respecting the quotas set for massachusetts fisherman, the demand is higher, creating a better price for pound. It is a perfect example of how a commercial fishery is sustaining jobs and the fishery. You dont just “go out and catch tunas” each rod literally costs 2.5 k and then factor in having to have a boat, gas, crew, electronics, liscence, est?! its not something you just jump in to, making it so even in wicked tuna raising the popularity of the fishery, its hard to get in on. Tuna stocks are hurt in the mediterranean and carribean where the bluefins migrate to, where they are purse sined, netted, and decimated. the fisherman in wicked tuna are NOT the problem, they exemplify and serve as a shining example on how a commercial fishery can healthily function, and does not have a negative effect on current catch quotas.

  64. What you can said about this….whoever can is going to move to Dominican republic or any other country whit “less” regulations, like a tunas longline commercial fisherman friend mine toll me once “I love this country, but commercial Fishing is my life, it’s all the I know and my family depends on it, I’m going down there ,them I’m gonna catch tunas, and at the end I’m going to be ,selling my fish to USA to the same people the are “saving ” the tunas, ironic don’t you think?”….THAT’S a cold hard true the nobodies want talk about, the is a huge amount of commercial fishermen from US already opening business all allowed central and south America and selling the catch to US, at the end the only one the loose is the people from US the they can’t even be a commercial fisherman on his own land ,PERIOD.

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