The massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has sparked new fears among conservationists for Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks, with worries that the disaster could have a serious long-term impact on the already endangered species. The gulf, an important spawning site for the tuna at this time of year, was contaminated on April 20 after a drill rig exploded off the coast of Louisiana, and it is estimated that nearly 5,000 barrels of oil are continuing to pour into the sea each day.
“The giant bluefin only show up for about a month, and this is the time they show up,” said Barbara Block, Stanford University marine biologist. “Bluefin tuna are moving to the Gulf of Mexico exactly right now to spawn,” she said, adding that the discharge is centered around one of the preferred breeding areas.
As well as bluefin, more than 600 species are considered to be at risk due to the spill, which may continue for months before they able to contain the spill. Fears that the effect on marine species could be devastating, and that bluefin could be driven further towards extinction, have drawn attention to the fact that while the shores must be protected from the spill, water ecosystems are also facing very serious, and possibly irreparable, damage.
The incident comes at a disastrous time for the bluefin, with populations down to 15% of historical levels because of widespread over-fishing – its meat highly prized, particularly in Japan as sushi and sashimi. Recent attempts to include bluefin on the CITES list of endangered species, to effectively prohibit trade of those caught in the Mediterranean and Atlantic, were rejected by nations in the CITES meeting in March.