Tracking Geographic Science in Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Management
Since the mid-1990s, scientists have implemented large scale tagging projects to collect data on movement and behaviors of iconic oceanic species. Of these, Atlantic bluefin tuna are a flagship species for ocean conservation: over the last 50 years, their populations have declined precipitously as a result of overfishing and a dysfunctional management framework. Governments, scientists and conservation groups have devoted considerable resources to Atlantic bluefin conservation, including tagging over 1000 individual fish with devices that gather fish locations as they migrate throughout the Atlantic Ocean and into the Gulf of Mexico and Mediterranean Sea. In addition to yielding ecological data, an explicit goal of tuna tagging projects is to inform management and conservation efforts. This is complex because Bluefin stocks are ‘shared’ among multiple states, yielding debate over which states ‘own’ highly migratory tuna, and which are responsible for their protection. Tagging data informs these debates by rendering the ecological features of individual fish into technical categories that can be incorporated into stock assessment models, management recommendations and political debate. Yet, the conservation impact of tagging projects has never been assessed. This project will detail the conservation impact and potential of tagging data by analyzing how the visual, spatial and temporal data of tuna migration and lifecycle gathered from tagging data influence: 1) scientific information, 2) scientists’ recommendations to managers, and 3) stakeholders’ negotiating positions in management debates.