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Satellite pop-up tracking device

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Satellite pop-up tracking device


This object appears in the following sections:

Going Global: Los Angeles, 2000
Going Global: Los Angeles, 2000 — Fusion Food

Hoisting a blue fin tuna onboard ship
Hoisting a blue fin tuna onboard ship

Reward money
Reward money

Satellite pop-up tracking device
Satellite pop-up tracking device

Bluefin tuna drawing

Barbara Block tagging a tuna

Tsukiji fish market

Bluefin tuna Satellite pop-up tracking device
Currently on display
From the Smithsonian Collection

While decades of over fishing have led to the decline of many fish populations, efforts by scientists and governments are being made to reverse this trend and ensure the sustainability of bluefin tuna. Regulation of bluefin tuna is especially difficult as the fish are fast and wide ranging. Understanding where these tuna live and feed is vital to fishermen, marine biologists, and government organizations.

Roger and Suzanne Hill founded Wildlife Computers in 1986 after successfully producing tags for researchers. The archival tracking device was first developed for tracking seals, but grew to include a variety of marine animals including the bluefin tuna.

Marine biologists attach satellite pop-up tracking devices to bluefin tuna to learn information about migration patterns. The device collects precise measurements of depth and location, storing the data on a flash drive. The unit is designed to release from the fish after a certain period and float to the surface. Data from the device reaches marine biologists via satellite once at the surface or upon its collection. Rewards of $500 to $1000 are offered for returning these devices to research centers.

Results from these devices have proved that bluefin tuna migrate freely across the Atlantic Ocean, making the definition of boundaries in the Atlantic and Mediterranean fisheries a challenging task. The first attempt to coordinate information of quotas started in 1969 with the formation of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). While the ICCAT includes members from both sides of the Atlantic, they have not been able to enforce their own regulations.

Problems with enforcement range from illegal companies, massive commercial fishing operations, and the public's increased demand for fish. Additionally, getting groups from all sides to accept studies by scientists is difficult. Information from pop-up tracking devices is helping build the case for greater restrictions on bluefin tuna fishing in order to restore their population.

Physical Description

Length: 12" inches

Width: 1.5"inches

Gift of Wildlife Computers

The rapid growth in the consumption of sushi provides an opportunity for insight into the effects of globalization. Looking at how a single fish, the bluefin tuna, is caught by New England fishermen, flown to the Tokyo fish market, and consumed around the world is a technological and culturally fascinating story.

Bluefin tuna are a remarkable fish. They can swim at speeds of 40 mph allowing them to cross the Atlantic Ocean in 5 days. Another interesting aspect is their size, weighing up to 1400 pounds. When bluefin meat reached $80 per pound in the 1980s, a single fish could sell for over $100,000.

However, before the 1970s, bluefin tuna ended up in boats mainly by accident. Sport fishermen would take a picture with the fish on the dock and sell the meat for pet food or pay for its burial in the town dump. The handling of bluefin tuna changed dramatically after the fish became a highly valued item in Japan.

Today, New England fishermen use small boats and specialized equipment to specifically fish for bluefin tuna. After being caught, fishermen promptly kill and package the bluefin tuna in ice to prevent spoiling, along with meeting the cultural demands of the Japanese marketplace. Upon arrival at the pier, buyers inspect the fish for imperfections and estimate the potential fat content. A higher fat content will translate into larger prices on the auction block. After calling or checking the prices on the market in Japan, the tuna is boxed with ice into a “Tuna Coffin” and trucked to New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport, where within hours of being caught is on a plane for the 14 hour flight to Japan.

Upon arrival in Japan, the tuna are trucked to the Tsukiji fish market, the largest seafood marketplace in the world. Fish are laid out for inspection by bidders who arrive early in the morning to examine the selection. Once a bidder purchases a fish, it is delivered to the restaurant or other final destination for food preparation in Japan or across the globe.

As an island nation, traditional foods in Japan tend to focus on seafood. Sushi has been served in Japan for centuries, but until the end of WWII, was considered a fast food. Sushi did not reach elite status until the economic prosperity of the 1970s. Many people have attempted to explain why the fish receive such immense scrutiny and delicate handling. Answers range from, the red tuna meat matching the national flag, using historical events such as linking the fish to the samurai, the old Japanese passion for tuna, or simply that it tastes good.

As a global species, bluefin tuna inhabit the waters of the North Atlantic, to the Mediterranean Sea, and the fishing grounds of the South Pacific. Although each region is home to diverse cultures, they all share a desire to catch as much fish as possible. Fueled by the demand of consumers leading to rampant over fishing, the once abundant bluefin tuna along with other species of fish are rapidily declining, an unintended consequence of becoming a global commodity.

Suggested Readings:

Bestor, Theodore C.. Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World (California Studies in Food and Culture, 11). Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.

Clover, Charles. The End of the Line: How Overfishing Is Changing the World and What We Eat. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008.

Issenberg, Sasha. The Sushi Economy: Globalization and the Making of a Modern Delicacy. New York: Gotham, 2008.

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