yellowfin tuna

Netting Billions Tuna Report Utterly Ignores Vital Ocean Ecology

A New Report By Pew Trust Purports To Tell All About Tuna Awash With Leadened Homilies

Pew’s finger wagging at the ‘usual suspects’ and proclamation of perils in the massive global tuna industry ignores as worthless as bycatch the greatest peril tuna face – their ocean pasture habitat collapse wrought by our high and rising CO2, and the fact that we can and must restore their ocean pastures.

Pew_tuna_releaseThe first thing that struck me when reading this Pew report titled “Netting Billions: A Global Valuation of Tuna” is that it introduces tuna and their decline as being part of a simplistic ‘predator prey’ resource biology. That is about as old school and wrong as one could ever be in describing wild things as resources.

This kind of thinking harkens back to religious descriptions of the natural world adhering to the idea of mans divine mastery over nature and the ‘law of the jungle’ where every form of life found in nature is there as either the weak prey or the strong predators. This ignores the modern ecological truth/wisdom where everything in nature ought to be seen as not just there for our human management, everything in nature is performing a job, a vital ecosystem service.

“It’s no secret that tuna are big business, and the economic security of countless coastal communities that are home to millions of people depends on it,” said Amanda Nickson, Pew’s director of global tuna conservation, in a press release from Pew.

But aside from those lofty quotes the report offers the usual offal solutions that amount to no more than saying the problem is all about bad fishing corporations that must be restrained. No mention is made of humans taking an active role in restoring, regenerating, and reviving ocean pastures we have placed in peril.


Relative Size of Tuna

Tuna, all seven species, are one of the oceans apex species that formerly inhabited the world’s oceans in vast numbers. They are not just food, or prey, or predators, they are active and vital participants in their ocean ecology.

Not withstanding Pew’s comprehensive report on the scores of billions of dollars worth of tuna that we humans take from the sea, Pew’s fundamental fallacy is in failing to understand that tuna are not here sharing our blue planet simply to lead a life being our prey. How tuna live and have always lived is they do a vital job sustaining the ocean pastures they inhabit.

The tuna are not alone as those pastures are incredible vertical gardens half a kilometer deep and covering tens of thousands of square kilometers sustaining tens of thousands of species of cooperating commensal and symbiotic life. Such vast 3 dimensional pastures are like the great African Savannahs, if you are fortunate enough to observe them as I have done as one goes below the surface the miracle of the ‘greatest animal migration on earth’ is revealed.  The ocean pastures need a lot of care and attention and that is what all those myriad forms of life living on those pastures provide.

Ocean Pastures In Peril

The greatest peril tuna and all the other ocean life that share ocean pastures face today is the collapse of those pastures. This clearly seen in real data not computer models in terms of the amount of phytoplankton and primary productivity that has been observed to be disappearing at a rate of 1% per year for the past 50 years. This primary cause of this collapse is not the hackneyed ‘usual suspects’ overfishing, rather it is the result of the nearly trillion tonnes of CO2 already emitted in all of the yesterday’s of yours and my fossil fuel age. Our yesterday’s CO2 emissions are today decimating ocean plant life via two mechanisms.

  1. First CO2 is causing global greening and since the ocean pastures most vital transient nutrient is mineral dust blown to them in the wind “more grass growing means less dust blowing.”
  2. Second, the direct impact of CO2 as it dissolves into the ocean and produces ocean acidification is already severe enough to increase the solubility of calcium such that larval forms of sea life that needs to make a shell to survive simply cannot do so.
  3. Third on the list of ill effects of our CO2 include global warming which is modifying surface ocean systems at an accelerated rate far exceeding the rate of natural selection and evolution.
  4. Lastly but still a dreadful impact comes the overfishing of the decimated ocean pastures with fisheries managers and pundits suggesting that the present many fold decimated stocks of wild fish can sustain our endless taking never giving back attitude.

The un-usual suspects

The idea that $44 Billion worth of tuna that we take from the oceans each year, to say nothing of the other wild fish we humans claim is as our divine right to take and remove from those pastures are stabs to the heart of the problem. The notion that we can ‘harvest’ and take as many as our politics of the day, and debates as put forth by this Pew Report dictate, is more akin to a prescription for ecological genocide than it is to sound fisheries or more critically needed sound ocean pasture management.


This Danish photo from 1946 shows the Bluefin Tuna were still in vast abundance on ocean pastures of the day. Today less than 3% of the Bluefin Tuna remain. We can return ocean pastures to the health and carrying capacity of that time and bring back the fish! click to read more

Unlike Pew I neither allude to nor advocate that the ‘takers’ are the ‘usual suspects’ and that merely stopping or slowing those bad people/corporations is simplistically and politically the right thing to do. My proposal is time-honored and proven – just as we, the human race, became the stewards of pastures on land 10,000 years ago it is time for us to become caring sustaining stewards of ocean pastures.

As we become wise and caring stewards of our ocean pastures we can take on our active role as valued creatures in thriving ocean ecologies and receive the food we need from them. It is just fine for humanity, to take from the ocean pastures, provided we give back at least and hopefully more than we take.

If this is new thinking for you try this thought exercise. Imagine just how long a community garden would provide for your community if some neighbours of that community were only takers and never lifted a finger to give back to tending to the garden. Our human history with the oceans is the ongoing greatest of all ‘tragedies of the commons,’ humanity only takes from the oceans, persistently insisting we need never give back to sustain those ‘wild’ ocean pastures.

Read more about restoring ocean pastures everywhere on this blog. Join me.