P.E.I. fisherman say Bluefin Tuna not endangered, scientists disagree

Today is the last day for the public to voice their opinion to the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans about whether the Bluefin Tuna should be placed under the protection of Canada's 'Species at Risk Act', and there is some disagreement between P.E.I fishermen and conservationists as to whether the species needs protection.

Bluefin Tuna are warm blooded (a rarity among fish), and average between 2-2.5 m in length and typically have a mass of about 225-250 kg. They are highly prized in the U.S. and Japanese markets for making sushi and sashimi, and buyers will pay thousands — sometimes hundreds of thousands — of dollars for one fish.

According to P.E.I. fishermen, such as Kenny Drake, there's no need to protect the Bluefin, because their numbers have actually increased to the point where many fishermen are catching them on the very first day of the season.

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"So can you compare that with where I used to fish for all summer for three fish?" Drake said, according to CBC News.

Ron MacKinley, P.E.I.'s Fisheries Minister, agreed, stating "If we started seeing the numbers dropping off or something here, then I might want to take a stronger look at it. But the catch seems to be increasing,"

Members of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) — which include university academics, independent specialists, Aboriginal people or government, museum or independent biologists — have a different take on the situation, though. In their May 2011 assessment report, they noted a 69% reduction in the number of mating Bluefin Tuna over the past 40 years, blaming over-fishing. As a result, they recommended that their status on the federal government's Species at Risk list be changed in January from "No Status" to 'Endangered'.

One member of the committee, marine biologist Alan Sinclair, believes what the P.E.I. fishermen is seeing is not representative of the entire species.

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"I think what's being seen locally off North Lake, it could well be that's where the last tuna is going to show up," he said.

"In my mind it would be a shame to ignore that and let them go extinct. It doesn't seem right to me."