The Sea Shepherds have set sail for the Mediterranean to protect another giant of the sea being hunted to extinction -- and this one isn't making the sushi industry very happy.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has become famous in recent years for its campaigns against Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean. However, as the group's name suggests, it is not just a 'whale shepherd' but a shepherd for the whole sea.
The Sea Shepherds played an instrumental role in banning the killing of dolphins by US tuna companies in the 1980s. Additionally, in true maverick style, it helped to enforce that ban itself and also helped to keep Mexican tuna companies away from dolphins in the Eastern tropical Pacific.
Now, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has launched a campaign to protect a fish that is much closer to the plates of Americans and Europeans than whale meat has ever been: bluefin tuna. Bluefin tuna has become one of the most popular fishes served in sushi restaurants around the world -- and especially in Japan.
On May 1st, Sea Shepherd's flag ship Steve Irwin left New York City for the Mediterranean and Operation Blue Rage, a campaign to stop a variety of illegal activities (poaching and extreme overfishing) that are seriously threatening the very existence of bluefin tuna.
Declining bluefin tuna stocks
Stocks of bluefin tuna have fallen by roughly 85% since the industrial fishing era began and the Atlantic bluefin fisheries have decreased a staggering 70% in the last 30 years. Yet despite quotas that are arguably too high to begin with, quotas are still being ignored in many places.
"Bluefin quotas are set at a ludicrously high 13,500 tons by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), but realistically over 60,000 tons are killed every year. The scientific community believes bluefin tuna may be extinct in the Mediterranean Sea in less than 5 years."
Sea Shepherd Founder Captain Paul Watson is angry that the bluefin tuna crisis has gotten so out of hand. "The fishing industry is literally investing in the extinction of this species so that they can control the price by hoarding the entire supply of bluefin tuna in cold storage," says Watson.
"This kind of greed cannot be allowed to continue.”
But will we see the same kind of dramatic interventions in the Med as we have come to expect in the Southern Ocean? The Sea Shepherds say they plan on doing "everything possible within the boundaries of international law to protect the magnificent bluefin."