Victory for Bluefin, Finally

School of Bluefin Tuna
School of bluefin. Photo credit: NOAA.

Sometimes in this work, it is necessary to keep the faith. For three years I have worked on a “win/win” campaign to protect bluefin tuna and 80 other species that are the unintended catch of Gulf of Mexico longline fishing. We have been determined since the beginning to work with fishermen to find a solution that did not destroy their livelihoods and that also protected marine life.

In 2010, the BP drilling disaster polluted much of the western Atlantic bluefin tuna’s only known breeding ground during the peak of spawning season. Tens of millions of gallons of oil were released within a matter of months and record amounts of toxic dispersants were used to break down the oil. Because of the impacts that the BP disaster had on bluefin, GRN advocated for better legal protections for bluefin and the use of BP disaster restoration funding to pay to help transition surface longline fishermen to more selective fishing gear that would protect spawning bluefin and other ocean wildlife, while keeping fishermen in business.

In December, we celebrated half of the victory. The National Marine Fishery Service issued favorable new rules to better protect bluefin, including limits on when and where longline fishing could be conducted. GRN supported those rules, but we also understood that funding was needed to help the fishermen transition to more sustainable gear. Without the transition program, it would be a win for the fish and put the fishermen’s livelihoods at risk.
For some time, there seemed to be no news about funding for gear transition. Our proposal was skipped over in Phases I, II and III of the Early Restoration funding under the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) for the BP disaster. We could not get any information about how decisions were made or how to be heard. The entire process seemed like a “black box” that we could not see into. It seemed as though each Gulf state was focused on their own coast and that no one was advocating for offshore restoration.

Just as I was feeling most hopeless, the news came Monday that Phase IV of NRDA Early Restoration funding will include a $20 million dollar project to compensate fishermen for losses and help provide them with alternative, more sustainable fishing gears! I’ve been saying all along that we needed a win/win, and now I am elated, relieved and shouting with joy. I am glad to see fishermen have the funding they need, and I am happy to see that Phase IV Funding includes many other wonderful restoration projects including sea turtle restoration and seagrass recovery. Inclusion in Phase IV is very positive but not final. We need to support these projects through upcoming hearings and comment periods. Please stay connected for how you can support.

April and May are the peak of the spawning season for the Atlantic bluefin tuna and approximately 20% of the spawning area was heavily oiled in April and May of 2010.  For the past three years, Gulf Restoration Network has partnered with longline fisherman to advocate a win/win solution to this tragedy in the Gulf. There are 46 longline boats in the Gulf and these fishermen and their families have been hard hit by diminished catches and soaring costs. This is a landmark for conservationists and commercial fishermen working together to find better and more efficient solutions to unintended catch and diminished fishing. $20 million should enable these families to transition to more efficient vessels and gear that will be a win/win for many species, including human.

More about GRN’s “Switching Gears to Protect Bluefin Tuna”:

Harry Lowenburg is a Campaign Organizer with GRN.

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