What in the world are you eating?

Peak Tuna

18 November 2009 | 13:53 - By Phil Lees

It's been a bad few weeks to be an Atlantic tuna with the predictions of species extinction within the next few decades. ICCAT, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas has been meeting over the past fortnight to decide upon the quotas for the world's tuna fisheries and has been announcing large cuts to fishing quotas, cuts that are designed to give the tuna a 50% chance that their stocks will recover by 2023. It's a flip of the coin as to whether Atlantic tuna will be dead in the next decade and a half rather than a serious move to ensure the survival of this pelagic predator. Charles Clover in The Times questions the math:

Wouldn’t a 95% probability of recovery have been a better objective? Well, yes, but this is Iccat. The plan was clearly designed to ensure that its members could go on fishing. Dr Gerald Scott, Iccat’s chief scientist, revealed that achieving the recovery plan with any certainty would require the bluefin quota for next year to be set nearer to 8,500 tons than the 15,000 tons that many at the meeting thought they could get away with.

Some of the fishing nations — including Libya and even Japan, the biggest tuna-consuming nation — have begun to discuss whether it would be easier to stop fishing than try to enforce an 8,500 quota on 20 fishing nations that is open to fraud. A joint United States-Japanese proposal has emerged, testing the water for a total closure of the bluefin fishery.

The tuna fishery is a classic tragedy of the commons where individuals acting in their own rational self interest destroy a shared group resource. There has been some promising research into farming the species but there is still the underlying problem of feeding them.

Tuna are difficult (but thanks to some research from University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland , not impossible) to breed in captivity. Currently, most tuna farms capture tuna from the wild, then fatten them up in offshore pens rather than breeding them. This may be set to change and a step in the right direction towards complete sustainability. But the problem with tuna is that they will never be as sustainable as other fish unless they can be conned into eating plant matter.

The feeding problem is simple - tuna eat other fish. Tuna aquaculture is a little like keeping a pen full of sea-going lions alive: you've got to pour in plenty of otherwise edible meat to grow a relatively small amount of luxury meat. (It is however socially unacceptable to farm lions for the purposes of eating or keep them in open water for extended periods). The small baitfish that get fed to tuna could be eaten by humans but poor grade sardines are just not as sexy or tasty as a fatty slab of tuna belly. Herein lies the cultural problem - should we forgo tuna and eat something less palatable to ensure their survival?

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Comments (5)

07 Jan 2011 20:39 AEST



Awesome Photo

i like the way of fish's picture captured

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28 Nov 2009 10:34 AEST



farming not the answer

human greed will kill the tuna. tuna are not just any fish you can stick in a farming pen. they are the beasts of the sea, travel large distances to stay alive and also, the thing that people forget, have an important place at the top of a food chain. once you start taking fish into pens, you then have to grow lots of soy or destroy other smaller fish populations to feed them. best bet is to check the Marine Stewardship Council ( to find out which fish are caught sustainability

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26 Nov 2009 22:44 AEST



totally agree

totally agree with the both of you. We're not to play god. I believe surgery and medicine already is, but human strive on one thing more than other species and that is feelings. Life is all about that. Mankind has already done enough to this world, greed, exploitations, wars. We aren't the only things living here and should not let our lifestyle and ignorance ruin this world for other species. STOP CRUELTY TO PIG, CHICKEN AND WATEVER ELSE FARMING! ITS bad enough we mass produce them....

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25 Nov 2009 16:01 AEST

The Hammer



Make sure you buy shares in the company Clean Seas Tuna that has successfully started to get the Southern Bluefun tuna to spawn in capitivity. This was a scientific first developed in Australia. In the list of 'Most Important Scientific Discoveries of 2009' it has been ranked by Time Magazine as second only to NASA's Ares 1 rocket. It will change the whole concept of the fishing/aquaculture industries as we know them.

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21 Nov 2009 16:54 AEST



Greed of Mankind

There is no question here, yes, we should stop over fishing tuna. Who are we to exploit & capture our fellow animals to the point of extinction. Man has only one predator.....himself. How dare we take the rest of the living species on this planet as our own right to do so. We can eat plants and survive. It's a shame the rest of the planets species dont have that choice. Unfortunately for mankind, we have to watch our backs, soon, man will prey upon himself.

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About this Blog

A blog about what the world eats, when and where it eats it, and why it matters to us all. Only much less ambitious than that sounds and with more excruciating puns.

Phil Lees grew up in rural Victoria, the first generation in his family to not have lived on the farm and thereby not slaughter their own meat.

In 2005 he moved to Cambodia and started the nation’s first food blog,, named after the best pun that he has ever made. It turns out that Cambodian food is delicious and unlike the warnings in most guidebooks, is not likely to kill you with any immediacy. Gridskipper called him a “national treasure”. Lonely Planet’s Greater Mekong guide called him “the unofficial pimp of Cambodian cuisine”. The New York Times laughed at a funny hotdog he saw.

Phil makes a mean sausage, a hoppy pale ale, a modest laksa. He owns three barbecues and is in the market for a fourth.