Eating Our Way To Extinction
This morning an updated IUCN Red List was released at the IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia. Being held in almost biblical regard amongst conservationists, the IUCN Red List provides comprehensive data on the conservation status of plant and animal species globally. In the same regards the mass extinction which the Red List is currently mapping is comparatively also of a biblical scale. Indeed with today’s update out of the 76,199 species assessed 22,143 are ranked as being threatened with extinction to varying degrees.
Following from the WWF’s report stating that Earth has lost half of it’s wildlife in the last forty years, the updated Red List shares the same bleak outlook. Moreover they both represent our dangerous overconsumption of resources. This is strongly displayed in the Pacific Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus orientalis) dramatic decline in population, mirrored by its increase in popularity as sashimi. The global food market has placed an unsustainable demand upon the species which has been reclassified from least concern to vulnerable as its population has dropped by a third over the last two decades.
Of more grave concern however is the Japanese delicacy, the Chinese Pufferfish (Takifugu chinensis). One of the most toxic fish in the world, it is commonly consumed in Japan and therefore a commercially important species. However this has also led to it being overfished and under pressure from possible genetic effects of cultured fish raised as part of increasing aquaculture efforts to meet commercial demand for the fish. As a result the Chinese Pufferfish has suffered localised population declines of 99.9%, placing it firmly at critically endangered on the Red List, one step away from extinction.
The Chinese Pufferfish is perhaps synonymous with mankinds relationship with the updated list. There is a strong correlation between species in decline and the same species being commonly consumed worldwide and thus commercially valuable. Overfishing and its effects has been well documented, yet it is most striking when we observe dramatic decline in species which are globally common delicacies, easily found on menus.
Our ability to eat our way through species is evident in regards to eel populations. After the Japanese Eel (Anguilla japonica) populations declined, the intensive eel farming industry of the country sought after new seed stock such as the American Eel (Anguilla rostrata). This has lead to an increase in reports of poaching of the American Eel. The American Eel is also under threat from barriers to migration, climate change and parasites and has been reclassified as endangered. However it is believed positive conservation actions could undo the damage already caused.
Stronger protections clearly need to be put in place to protect the species we consume. However the declining populations have increased the market value of the fish and created a gold rush mentality which in turn is putting unsustainable pressure on species. Last week the National Marine Fisheries Service overturned a decision to stop fishing the Pacific Bluefin Tuna in America. As a result of the decision the California drift gillnet fishery will be able to sell Bluefin Tuna caught while fishing for swordfish. Unless restrictions are put in place upon fish harvests, the gold rush greed will most likely continue until populations crash into disrepair.
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