Tasty animals end up on latest list of threatened species

Science News
18 November 2014

SYDNEY — Each morning at the famous Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, large tuna are auctioned off, sold to become sushi, sashimi and other tasty meals. About 80 percent of all the Pacific bluefin tuna caught end up in Japan, and now an alarming number of juvenile fish are included in that number. The young fish are killed before they’ve had a chance to reproduce, and that’s contributing to a sharp decline in the species — about 19 to 33 percent over the last 22 years. That’s one of the reasons why the International Union for Conservation of Nature just changed the official status of the fish from “Least Concern” to “Vulnerable” in the latest update of its Red List of Threatened Species.

The IUCN is racing to assess 160,000 species by 2020 and is nearly halfway there. This new update, released November 17 at the IUCN World Parks Congress, reassessed many species, such as the tuna, and added many more to the list. With those new additions, the total number of officially threatened species — those rated Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered — is now 22,413.

Notable among the additions this time are the number of edible species: The cyanide-laced Chinese pufferfish, known as the popular Japanese dish fugu that can kill if prepared improperly, enters the list as Critically Endangered due to a 99 percent reduction in its numbers. The American eel faces plenty of threats — including pollution, habitat destruction and parasites — but is also declining because poachers are stealing the eels for seed stock for eel farms, largely due to the decline of the Japanese eel. Both eel species are now considered Endangered. And while the Chinese cobra has probably never landed on your dinner plate, it’s popular enough in Hong Kong markets to drive its numbers south and garner the snake a Vulnerable listing.

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