Chad Love: Catch Your Bluefins While You Can

Almost a year ago, I wrote a blog post lamenting the continued decline of the bluefin tuna and how if I wanted to catch one perhaps I better do it quickly before it's too late. The bluefin was in pretty serious trouble before the BP spill. Now, with the Gulf of Mexico - one of the species' most important spawning grounds - a giant oil slick, environmental groups are starting to ask if the bluefin should be listed under the ESA.

From this story in the New York Times:
_Fearing that the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will deal a severe blow to the bluefin tuna, an environmental group is demanding that the government declare the fish an endangered species, setting off extensive new protections under federal law. Scientists agree that the Deepwater Horizon spill poses at least some risk to the bluefin, one of the most majestic -- and valuable -- fishes in the sea. Its numbers already severely depleted from record levels, the bluefin is also the subject of a global controversy regarding overfishing.

__The bluefin is not the only fish that spawns in the gulf, and while it is often a focus of attention, researchers are worried about the impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on many other species. In fact, scientists say, it is virtually certain that billions of fish eggs and larvae have died in the spill, which came at the worst possible time of the year. Spawning season for many fish in the gulf begins in April and runs into the summer. The drilling rig exploded on April 20, and the spill has since covered thousands of square miles with patches of oil. The environmental advocacy group, the Center for Biological Diversity , in Tucson, filed the request under the Endangered Species Act in late May. If the petition is granted, a process that could take years, the endangered listing would require that federal agencies conduct exhaustive analysis before taking any action, like granting drilling permits, that would pose additional risk to the fish.

Beyond tuna, other animals at apparent risk of harm include the whale shark, the largest fish in the ocean, and a group known as billfish, the foundation of a large recreational fishery in the Gulf of Mexico and the western Atlantic. The billfish that could be affected include the fastest fish in the ocean, the sailfish, as well as blue marlin and swordfish. "This is a much bigger problem than people are making out," said Barbara Block, a Stanford researcher who is among the world's leading experts on the bluefin tuna. "The concern for wildlife is not just along the coast; it is also at sea. We're putting oil right into the bluewater environment._

Last year I only half-jokingly wrote that I should pawn a few guns to fund a bluefin fishing trip before it was too late. This year, maybe I really should, because sometimes "too late" gets here a helluva lot faster than you think.