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The Reality of Bluefin Tuna

Numerous friends alerted me on Facebook to a posting yesterday on the Huffington Post by prominent ecologist and marine conservationist Carl Safina. The headline read “ National Geographic Channel, In a Race for Bottom, Adds Killing Endangered Species to the New Season Entertainment Lineup.” In the post, Dr. Safina calls attention to a new series that National Geographic Channel has commissioned called “Wicked Tuna.” The series apparently follows the exploits of commercial fisherman as they hunt Atlantic Bluefin Tuna.
My initial reaction of course was outrage. As an ecologist and conservationist myself, I have kept informed about the plight of the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna. Commercial overfishing has severely put them in jeopardy. Most of the top marine scientists believe that they are a highly endangered species, a species sitting precariously on the edge of extinction and whether they survive or not, depends on our actions. Certainly National Geographic Channel should not be making a series that gives the impression that it is OK to kill endangered species.
As I read through the numerous Facebook posts, most of whom were just as outraged as me, I came across one that urged people not to make uninformed judgments based upon opinion pieces and to seek more information about the series prior to commenting.
Fair enough.
It didn’t take much digging to find published quotes from the production company Pilgrim Studios as well as the head of National Geographic Channel. And a quick lookup of the boats involved in the show revealed that the Captains of those vessels signed a petition against the listing of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna as endangered. No surprise there.
Here are the quotes:
The series focuses on the crews of Tuna.Com, The Bounty Hunter, Hard Merchandise and Odysea. Executive producer Craig Piligian said: “Commercial tuna fishing is brutally competitive. With its limited season, the intelligence and prowess of the fish, and the sheer fact that they’re worth so much, the livelihood of each vessel’s crew can be made or broken in a month. Pairing that kind of pressure with the harsh environment of Gloucester makes this one of the most intense and compelling series Pilgrim has ever produced.”
NGC president Howard T. Owens added: “As a huge fan of the movie The Perfect Storm, I have always wanted to make a series that captured the raw authenticity of the characters in that movie. “The tuna crews in this series immediately draw you in to their struggles and triumphs as they fight to make a living. One fish can literally be the difference between feeding your family or filing for bankruptcy.”

Notice how there was specifically no mention of “endangered or threatened”? Of course not, because that is not what this is about.
National Geographic Channel fed us, in their carefully crafted press release exactly what they want us to think the show is about… they emphasized the struggle to make a living and the dramatic conclusion that one fish is the difference between food on the table or bankruptcy.
If one were only to look at this as a story, endangered fisherman versus endangered tuna; “Fisherman fighting to survive and feed their families, the difference between their survival or not depends on hunting the endangered bluefin tuna.” Dramatic. Great story.
But what would happen if we inserted Elephants instead of Tuna? Same exact story… the struggle of people to feed themselves and selling ivory is the only way they know how. Yet, National Geographic doesn’t glorify that… and my bet is they wouldn’t.
Facts are facts.
Atlantic Bluefin tuna are in severe decline and in need of protection. If it weren’t for the global pressure from the Japanese market for them, this probably wouldn’t be the case. The fishermen who are exploited in this series rely on this global market for their survival.
The difference is this: if the fishermen can’t fish for bluefin tuna, they will need to find other work. If the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna doesn’t get needed protection, all indications are that the species most likely will go extinct.
This is all so very sad. To glorify this with a reality series for the purpose of competing with other networks is even sadder. And for it to come from the revered National Geographic is even sadder.

Wicked Tuna is just irresponsible programming and I strongly oppose it.

That is my two cents.

If you agree with this, contact National Geographic channel and let them know how you feel about it. comments@natgeochannel.com