In July 2017, there was a very popular Chinese television drama series that advertised the consumption of Bluefin Tuna. “Come and taste this very best Bluefin Tuna”, said one of the main characters of the series. Being the most populated country in the world, China has the largest market for uprising seafood trends. However, the Bluefin tuna is highly priced due to the scarcity of the species. If the trend of eating Bluefin Tuna is given life in the Chinese market, what will happen to this endangered species?
According to WWF and Endangered Species International, Bluefin is the largest tuna and can live up to 40 years; they can reach over 4 meters in length and 500kg in weight. However, the majestic tuna is near extinction because of unsustainable overfishing caused by the fact that they are prized by sushi and sashimi lovers all around the world. A 2016 Japan Times article reported that the current population of Bluefin Tuna has dropped by more than 97% from its past levels, bringing it to merely 2.6% of its “unfished” size.
By far, with fleets from the Mediterranean filling the demand, Japan is now the world’s largest consumer of Bluefin Tuna. Approximately 80% of all Bluefin Tuna caught worldwide are consumed in Japan. With all the consumption, it is certain that Bluefin Tuna would not be able to self-sustain. Organizations from all around the world have been actively participating in protecting and rebuilding the species population. Here, is a story of how a Chinese non-profit organization managed to pitch in.
On June 8th, 2017, JD.com, one of the e-commerce giants in China, has announced its strategic alliance with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) showing the company’s commitment in promoting sustainability in its supply chains and logistics and shouldering the responsibilities on environment protection.
Ironically, on June 11th, planning to introduce this delicacy to Chinese consumers through its online platform, JD.com announced another strategic cooperation agreement with an Australian Bluefin supplier, Beston Global Food. Clearly, the company has a different definition of sustainability.
In recent years, with the rise of online platforms such as JD.com and Taobao, China has become the world’s largest e-commerce market, transforming people’s lifestyles and meeting their rising consumption ability and spending power and the country’s pride in its food culture plus the growing interest in foreign cuisine. Through online platforms, Chinese customers would be able to enjoy the taste of Bluefin Tuna, but probably not for very long. Since China also has a population more than 10 times larger than Japan’s, such easy access is certain to bring destructive effects to the already critically endangered Bluefin Tuna.
The issue here is that although Bluefin Tuna is designated as Critically Endangered (CR) in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Redlist of Threatened Species, there are no laws banning or restricting the sale or import of Bluefin Tuna, JD’s actions were perfectly lawful.
Thanks to several conservation groups in China, including CBCGDF, whose volunteers spotted JD’s announcement, immediately wrote letters to the CEO, emphasizing on the critically endangered status of the Bluefin Tuna. CBCGDF believes that even though JD only sells ranch-raised Bluefin Tuna. In fact, ranched raised can be equally problematic to the environment. As stated above, Bluefin Tuna are large and have long life-spans which means that it takes a long time for them to grow into size. Moreover, as warm-blooded animal, Bluefin Tuna are constantly moving and burning a lot of heat. In order to make up the lost heat and to make them more profitable, ranch-raised Bluefin Tuna are fed with other small fish which are also caught in the wild. To be more specific, to produce 100kg of ranch raised Bluefin Tuna, approximately 1.5-2 tons of other wild caught small fishes must be consumed. If the size of Bluefin Tuna ranching continues to grow, the food resources of other wild species including ones will soon be depleted, indirectly threatening other endangered marine animals that share the same marine ecosystem.
After receiving the open letters from CBCGDF and other environmental organizations, JD officially responded on June 12th that they would not sell any Bluefin Tuna on their platform. Now, logging on to JD.com customers would not be able to find any products under the Bluefin Tuna tag (蓝鳍金枪鱼), including those sold through the platform by other third-party vendors. A few days later, CBCGDF also sent letters to another online platform, yhd.com, which has also removed its Bluefin Tuna products shortly after. Taobao, the other e-commerce giant quickly sensed the change and followed suit.
Apparently, CBCGDF has not given up to the conservation efforts regarding Bluefin Tuna. CBCGDF thinks that by reducing the selling/buying platforms in China, it will win more time for the Bluefin Tuna to recover their critically endangered populations. Also, CBCGDF actively seeks for international cooperation with experts, professors, politicians and stakeholders and has developed an initiative called "Bluefin Tuna Coalition International (BTCI)". In addition, wishing to raise the public awareness of protecting endangered Bluefin Tuna and appreciate the prompt action of JD.com, CBCGDF announced that the “World Bluefin Tuna Day” is set up on the June 12th of every year.
China and online platforms, a change that probably would have been neglected in the market of Bluefin Tuna could have been devastating to the population of Bluefin Tuna if it was not for the vigilant volunteers of CBCGDF and other environmental organizations and their professional and speedy response. As the slogan of CBCGDF “Aware the People, Educate the People, Empower the People”, indicates, a majestic animal such as the Bluefin Tuna is fascinating by its mere existence, it is a lot more just another dish on our menus.
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