Bonsai Bluefin

Despite our China obsession, Japan remained Australia’s largest export destination last year, with foodstuffs and coal leading. A free trade agreement between the two countries is stalled, and Japanese whaling continues.

Japan’s ageing population is expected to fall from 128 to 100 million by 2050, as it has no immigration program and declining birthrates. But this will probably not save bluefin tuna from extinction. Japanese consume 80% of the world’s catch as sushi. Northern & southern species are almost wiped out already and eastern Atlantic bluefin may vanish within ten years.

International Commission for Conservation of Atlantic Tunas set catch quotas in the Mediterranean of about 30,000 tonnes of eastern Atlantic bluefin between 1999 and 2007. Fishermen ignored these, netting double that amount. Next year’s quota is 18,500 tonnes with ICCAT observers on board large vessels capable of taking 100 tonnes a day.

In Australia’s tuna fishing capital Port Lincoln (SA) fortunes were made by multi-millionaire fishermen in the heyday 1960-80s, including pioneer Hagen Stehr, who said recently: “Those days were crazy. It was catch as many as you can, kill as many fish in the shortest possible period of time, make a lot of money, then have the rest of the year off. We raped the industry quite badly.”  BRW magazine put his fortune at $US135 million.

Now Stehr is developing bluefin breeding in hatcheries at his ‘Clean Seas Tuna’ (no irony) facility and aims to produce 250,000 bluefin by 2015, equal to total bluefin catch by Australian fishermen. However with prices up to $US20,000 per bluefin in Tokyo’s fish market, it’s unlikely that they will slow their catch as hatchery output ramps up.

Vale the magnificient wild bluefin. Yellowfin & bigeye tuna are set to follow.

post-tuna catchInfo source: SMH July 11-12

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