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West Coast Scientists Fishing For Solutions To Bluefin Tuna Overfishing

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- In the San Francisco Bay Area, no matter how you slice it, we're wild about raw fish.

For sushi and sashimi lovers the most prized and pricey cut is the tender, red belly of the Pacific Bluefin tuna.

But we have a big problem: We love this fish so much that we're eating it into extinction.

"There is no way we can continue to hunt tuna for sushi and sashimi in our ocean. This practice has to stop," said Professor Yonathan Zohar, director of the Department of Marine Biotechnology at the University of Maryland.

Now some scientists are fishing for a solution.

"Do we want tunas in our seas or do we want tuna in our market?  I believe we can have both," explained Stanford University Marine Biologist Professor Barbara Block,

Professor Block pioneered the tagging and tracking of Bluefin tuna in the wild. Her work unlocked the mysteries of where these magnificent fish feed and breed.

"So before us, mankind didn't really know where tuna went," said Block, "We've seen tunas go back and forth across the Pacific in as little as 3 months."

The scientist and her team hope to take the pressure off wild tuna by getting one to spawn in captivity.

"We have the science on the table that within ten years we'll be producing a lot of the tuna that we see in the markets from aquaculture," said Block.

Block is a member of the Tuna Research and Conservation Center. It's mission is to advance the knowledge and understanding of tuna through research, education and conservation.

At her lab at Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove, Professor Block's team and the Monterey Bay Aquarium are studying captive tuna in huge, round tanks. The facility was established in 1994, and arguably, the Block Team has the most experience in keeping captive tunas alive and well.

These warm-blooded fish are fast, sleek, and powerful - jumping out of the water to snatch food at feeding time.

The group is learning more about when these fish mature, when they are amorous, and, since it's not obvious, how to tell a male from a female.

"You may not have the right mix," said Professor Block.

Other nations like Mexico are "ranching" tuna - by capturing young Bluefin, and keeping them in ocean pens till they're big enough to sell

But to fatten them up, they're fed a massive amount of wild sardines, and that puts pressure on sardines.

Block's group wants to develop a more sustainable feed. "So that a tuna bought at Whole Foods or a Safeway is a tuna that's been grown through practices we can all be happy about," said Block.

Dr. Block is passionate about these fish.

She explained how Bluefin tuna are majestic creatures: they are renowned for their epic migrations; they're able to swim ocean basins, they can dive to incredible depths; they're warm-blooded like birds and mammals, and they can sprint at speeds that can beat a racehorse. But these phenomenal creatures can't outrun our voracious appetites for their flesh. If we don't find a solution to take pressure off them in the wild, these giants will disappear from our oceans forever.

The statistics are sobering:

The Ocean-wide population of Bluefin has plunged to just 4% of its estimated historic highs.

The United States, Mexico, Japan and other nations have agreed to dramatically reduce their fishing quotas this year.

But illegal fishing remains.

Last month, a 400-pound Bluefin sold for $37,000


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