Bluefin Tuna Population ‘Probably Okay’ After BP Oil Spill

Some rare good news for an overfished and depleted species.
80 percent of bluefin stocks have perished since the 1970s. (Photo: Getty Images)
Dec 6, 2011· 1 MIN READ
Originally from Baltimore, Oliver lives and writes on a quiet, tree-lined street in Brooklyn.

As we told you last week, there’s still plenty to be upset about a year after BP’s infamous Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Clean up efforts have stalled. Oil continues to be pumped daily, with hundreds of new oil contracts leased out over the past year. And just $6 billion of the $20 billion compensation fund established by BP to make reparations has been paid out.

Now, a rare bright spot rises to the surface. According to a new analysis by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the vast majority of the baby bluefins coming of age in the gulf should be able to weather the oil storm, a reversal from more pessimistic projections made last year.

“It appears so far that the impact on the larval population is relatively small,” said Clay Porch, director of sustainable fisheries for NOAA’s Southeast Fisheries Science Center in Miami, to The Huffington Post.

Instead of 20 percent of baby tuna being harmed—last year’s estimate —Porch said that the new estimates landed somewhere between 11 percent and 5 percent. Taking into account that a certain number of adolescent bluefin perish from natural causes, the total loss to the population could be as little as 2 percent.

But with up to 80 percent of the population depleted, is there really any room for celebration? The bluefin has already disappeared from the Black Sea and Caspian Sea, and with countries like the United States still balking at the idea of protecting the species, it seems like this is yet another case of dodging one bullet just to run into another. As former NOAA chief scientist Sylvia Earle says to NPR, we’re nowhere near out of the woods yet.

“I think it’s too early to celebrate a possible greater survival than had been predicted. These are, after all, models,” Earle said. “The truth is we don’t have enough information to be able to clearly say one way or another what happened to the 2010 class of baby tuna.”

The bluefin tuna has been prized since antiquity. Its likeness has been immortalized in the artworks, writings and even coinage of the ancient Greeks and Phoenicians, a testament to the pivotal role it played in their survival. It still appears on the back of the Croatian kuna today. The only question is whether it will be around tomorrow.