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Tuna on the Brink

“Each man kills the thing he loves,” said Oscar Wilde, and that is certainly true — man, woman and child — when it comes to tuna.

The world’s favorite fish is so popular — in tuna sandwiches, in sushi bars, in cat food — that we are, as a species, loving it to death. We harpoon it, hook it, net it, and increasingly ranch it, in giant pens at sea. Tuna cowboys haul it in by hand, by the gills.

The great ones are all but gone — and we’ll talk today with the man who caught the biggest ever: fifteen hundred pounds of tuna. A new book says the rest could go the way of the buffalo.

This hour, On Point: The fate of the tuna.

Can you picture the world without tuna, without a tuna sandwich? Will the tuna go the way of the buffalo? Has tuna always seemed to you like an infinite resource, a commodity that could never run out? Will the last great slice of the last tuna be gobbled up at a sushi bar in Tokyo? Have you fished tuna — with harpoon, rod and reel, net? Do you worry about the mercury, and if so, how much? How do you see the fate of the tuna? Tell us what you think.


Joining us in the studio is Richard Ellis, an author and marine artist who has written and illustrated for National Geographic, Discover, and Scientific American. He’s written up whales, squid, and shark. His new book is “Tuna: A Love Story.” You can read an excerpt at RandomHouse.com.

And with us from Novo Scotia is Ken Fraser, the man who holds the world record for the largest tuna ever caught: 1,496 lbs. He’s the author of “Possessed,” a book about the world of bluefin fishing.

Ken Fraser with the largest tune ever caught

Ken Fraser with the largest tuna ever caught, off Nova Scotia in 1979.

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  • http://www.tunalab.unh.edu molly lutcavage

    My grad students and I look forward to this program with interest. We’re a New-England based oceanographic research lab that has investigated bluefin tuna for the past 16 years. For further scientific information on bluefin tuna migration, ecology, population biology, and research, please visit our websites:

  • Lisa Gordon

    I am very interested to hear today’s show – with specific interest on the giant Atlantic bluefin. I grew up tunafishing – I caught my first tuna (937 lbs) when I was 13. My mom is the women’s world record holder (a 1,228 lbs bluefin tuna caught in Cape Cod Bay). It is actually the largest fish caught in U.S. waters (man or woman). I would hate to see a great sport fish (and great tasting fish) disappear. It’s a complicated subject to manage fisheries and I look forward to hearing the opinions of your guests.

  • M. Reed

    Good morning,

    The Bahamas are being overrun by lionfish, nasty non-native creatures that are driving out native fish–and some tourists.

    A local conservation group, Friends of the Environment, is trying to introduce lionfish to menus around the Abacos to encourage people to catch them.

    The Japanese might be an excellent market for lionfish, though I believe it must be cooked to avoid the toxins. That would give the Bahamians a new economic resource *and* perhaps control the lionfish population. (However, if the approach were too successful, they’d probably end up encouraging the darned things.)

    We get a lot of tuna in the Abacos, though I’m not sure what kind. I do know it’s delicious.

  • Gina Foglia

    Brings back memories of my uncle returning from the Atlantic City Tuna Tournament and my Mom canning the tuna at home.

    But today it is sad that we still excel in killing and not just admiring the oldest creatures. This year I have heard about the largest tuna, the oldest clam and the largest squid and they have been killed to be admired or studied.

    The largest lobster I heard about is in an aquarium – at least that is a little better, but not in my mind the best – let them go and admire the life -.

    I saw an MIT museum exhibit about the dynamics of tuna movement – absolutely amazing animals. I think there should be a large (old) as there is small (young) requirement.

  • Eric McNiff

    The problem, as mentioned on the show, is that these fish are being overharvested in the Mediteranian. These are the SAME fish that we fish for off the U.S. coast, but our country regulates the harvest with quota. Our quotas mean nothing however, if these same fish that are being quasi protected here, are over fished with no regulations in Europe. Getting countries to agree on management guidelines for this world resource is going to be difficult, but it needs to start with the Europeans adopting and enforcing quotas/regulations similar to the U.S.

  • Tre Gaarder

    Does your guest have any comments on the True World seafood company and their impact on the blue fin tuna population?

  • sojourner
  • Peter Nelson

    These are the SAME fish that we fish for off the U.S. coast, but our country regulates the harvest with quota. Our quotas mean nothing however, if these same fish that are being quasi protected here, are over fished with no regulations in Europe. Getting countries to agree on management guidelines for this world resource is going to be difficult, but it needs to start with the Europeans adopting and enforcing quotas/regulations similar to the U.S.

    Why can’t we just ban import of any more tuna than exceeds our quota? We’re a big market so that should have some effect.

  • Neil Laverdiere

    I enjoyed today’s program on tuna, although I am annoyed at the short shrift you gave Mr. Fraser of Nova Scotia. Much of his time was usurped by a woman caller who caught an appreciably smaller fish years after his record-setting effort. How rude of you to invite Mr. Fraser to be a guest, then elbow him aside.

  • alan rastellini

    My second cousins would go out of Brant Rock in the middle of the night in the 16 ft Boston Whaler.

    I was ‘down the beach’ one weekend, about age 10, when they brought in one close to 700. Everyone came to the dock, scales, chain saw, steaks, and a Japanese man with a checkbook. Quite an impression on an East Somerville yute.

  • Graham Bouthillier

    I had the good fortune literally to fish commercially for giants in the 80′s-90′s.New England was the premier Bluefin mecca from New York to Maine we all traveled like gypsies.Many factors account for the the fall of this fishery Economic leading the way.Currently Our local waters are void of mature stocks.We do however have great numbers of school fish.These fish return to our region annually.Now is the time to globally in force strict quotas it could be our last chance!!!

  • Sally

    Possessed is a gem. I have had the opportunity to browse through it. I can’t believe the weight on that tuna! How many cans of tuna would that produce? Is the meat tough?

    Anyone enchanted by the maritimes should also check out this book: The Cyclist’s Guide to Canada’s Ocean Playground, by Gary Conrod, a world renowned cyclist. The font is smaller than Possessed’s, but still readable. It’s the most comprehensive guide ever, and you’ll learn what makes each part of Nova Scotia special.

    It’s an invaluable resource, and, should you go touring, there are many opportunities for fishing along the way, although carrying a rod and bait on a bike is quite a challenge!

  • Michelle Madsen-Bibeau

    My system isn’t fast enough to listen to the show again, so could someone post the word Richard Ellis used that Tom needed defined (as I did, except from context)? The word meant “for the public good” and was a silver dollar word if I ever heard one. I think it was at about the 45/50 minute mark in the show. Thanks!

  • Naftali Wolfe

    Eleemosynary, i.e. charitable

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