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Last updated on April 17, 2014 at 1:21 EDT

US Rejects Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Endangered Status

May 29, 2011

The U.S. rejected calls to protect Atlantic bluefin tuna as an endangered species on Friday.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said that while it was worried about overfishing it did not fear imminent extinction.

Environmental groups repeatedly voiced concern that the global fad for Japanese food was driving the world’s stocks of tuna to dangerously low levels and have tried hard to provide safeguard to preserve the species’ survival.

NOAA said it was putting Atlantic bluefin tuna on a watchlist of species at risk but would not classify it under the Endangered Species Act.

“Based on careful scientific review, we have decided the best way to ensure the long-term sustainability of bluefin tuna is through international cooperation and strong domestic fishery management,” Eric Schwaab, a senior official at the agency, to the AFP news agency.

He said the U.S. would continue to advocate strict international quotas on the number of tuna that can be hunted to “ensure the long-term viability of this and the important fish stocks.”

Clay Porch, a senior federal scientist, told the news agency that the study of tuna stocks in the Gulf of Mexico was conducted before the massive BP oil spill.

Porch said 2010 tuna stocks were down but that the drop could be within normal fluctuations.  The species must be found to be at a threat of extinction within a definable time frame in order to be listed as endangered.

Last year, the U.S. helped to ban the international trade in Atlantic bluefin tuna, but the proposal was easily defeated at the U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species after intense lobbying against the plan by Japan and opposition by some European nations.

A separate meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas decided in November to trim the catch quota to just 12,900 tons in 2011.

However, U.S. authorities said they saw a better outlook for tuna amid the growing international attention.

“The new quotas that were set forth at the last convention provide a significantly better picture, providing we have sufficient compliance, than might have existed before,” Schwaab told reporters on a conference call.

The government considered the request to protect the tuna after a petition by the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group, said the BP oil spill threatened the tuna’s breeding habitat.

“If there is a grassroots movement to stop consumption of this species, then it will also tell political leaders that no longer can their decisions be made just based on the industry’s greed to keep overfishing,” Catherine Kilduff, a staff attorney at the center, said in a statement.

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