It’s a good day for tuna. They’ve come off the Red List.
The list was compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It highlights the extinction risk of thousands of species around the world. Just under 140,000 species have been analysed over the last half-century. Currently, 39,000 are under the threat of extinction. Already, 902 have gone extinct. In 2011, most species of tuna were considered to be at serious risk of extinction. A decade later, after concerted conservation efforts, to include strict fishing quotas and a crack-down on illegal fishing, this is no longer the case.
With 6 million tonnes caught in 2019, tuna are some of the most commercially valuable fish in the world. The IUCN report reassessed the status of seven commonly fished tuna species. As a result, the Atlantic bluefin tuna moved from Endangered to Least Concern. The Southern bluefin became Endangered rather than Critically Endangered. Additionally, both albacore and yellowfin tunas went from being Near Threatened to Least Concern.
“These Red List assessments are proof that sustainable fisheries approaches work, with enormous long-term benefits for livelihoods and biodiversity,” said Dr Bruce Collette, chair of the IUCN SSC Tuna and Billfish Specialist Group, in a press release. “We need to continue enforcing sustainable fishing quotas and cracking down on illegal fishing.”
However, despite the positive news for these 4 species, tuna stocks in some regions remained low. Particularly of concern were bluefin tuna in western parts of the Atlantic. Also, yellowfin in the Indian Ocean. As a result, the update stresses the need for conservation efforts to be implemented on a global scale. For example, whilst the Mediterranean Atlantic bluefin tuna population has increased by 22% in the last 40 years, the Gulf of Mexico’s species has decreased by half. “Tuna species migrate across thousands of kilometres, so coordinating their management globally is also key,” added Dr Collette.
Equally, other marine creatures are also facing the impacts of climate change, and overfishing. The IUCN update found that nearly 40% of sharks and rays are now threatened with extinction. This is due to commercial fishing and pollution. “The alarm bells couldn’t be ringing louder for sharks and rays,” said Dr Andy Cornish, of the World Wildlife Fund, about the report. “We are losing this ancient group of creatures – starting to lose it species by species right here, right now – we desperately need urgent action.” Meanwhile, on land, the Komodo dragon is moving closer to oblivion, as rising sea levels threatens its habitat.
The revised list of the world’s endangered plants and animals was released to coincide with the World Conservation Congress, which took place in France last week. Postponed for a year due to the pandemic, it saw governments, NGOs, indigenous peoples, and 16,000 scientists collaborate on conservation proposals. These will set the agenda for the upcoming UN summits on biodiversity and climate change.
Key issues were wildlife trafficking, plastic pollution, and protection of the Amazon. IUCN director general Dr Bruno Oberle was positive about the recovery of overfished tuna species and the success of sustainable practices. However, he was clear that much was still to be done. “States and others now gathered at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseille must seize the opportunity to boost ambition on biodiversity conservation, and work towards binding targets based on sound scientific data.”